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                                      Pre-War Era

  On December 23rd, 1937 a U.S. Patent was filed for a collapsible bicycle. The patent had six unique features to make it fold into a small space for easy storage and transport. The Patent was awarded on August 13th, 1940. This is the story of this bike.

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  In 1938 the Compax Mfg Co. Inc. introduced it's Compax Vagabond Folding bike. This bike was designed for easy transport and was targeted to apartment dwellers, yachtsmen and vacationers along with daily commuters.  It did not take long for Westfield Mfg Co., the makers of Columbia bikes to take note of this bike and they wanted it in their line of bikes. The very next year Westfield purchased the company and patent for this bike. In 1940 the first Westfield made Compax bikes went into production now called the Compax Sports Traveler.

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  The 1940 and 1941 Westfield Compax bikes differed slightly from the Compax Company’s bike but kept all of the important design features that made this bicycle unique, folding handlebars and a take-apart frame.

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1940 Compax

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1941 Compax

   This is a 1942 COMPAX SPORTS TRAVELER that I picked up not long ago. It has serial number G29121 which makes it an early 1942 manufactured bike. Rationing and restrictions limited bicycle production by 1942 but leftover parts from the previous year were used to make bikes for the civilian market. It is the same as the 1941 model.

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   There are significant differences between these "pre-war" style Compax frames and both the Military Style frame and the "post-war" style shown further down this page.
  The first of differences are that these pre-war frames had a lug construction at both the seat mast and the head tube.

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   Another difference is the location of the frame disassembly joint. On the pre-war style it is 3" more forward on the main frame tube than on the later Compax's.

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                                        War Time Era

   Vacationers were not the only target Westfield Mfg had in mind for this bike. For several years war was brewing with Japan and the idea of a lightweight compact bike was being entertained by the US Military.  Almost two Years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the US Marines were experimenting with take-apart bikes and used a Westfield made Compax in Marine Paratrooper trials. These tests would lead to the Paratrooper name and legend. The fact of the matter is the U.S. Military never approved these bikes for paratrooper use. This did not mean the makers of Columbia bicycles did not give up on the idea of selling these bikes to the military. Many were purchased by the military for use on bases.

 The following is the pre-war publicity picture depicting the marine paratrooper trials. This picture was used by Westfield Mfg during and after the war in ads to promote their participation in the war effort.

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  The following advertisement is one used during the war using the picture previously shown.  Though a contract for true “Paratrooper” bikes was never a reality for Westfield Mfg. it did not stop them from playing up the interest the Marine Paratroopers had shown in the Compax a few years earlier including a bit of truth stretching. This is part of the reason many today still think our troupes did jump out of the skies with bicycles strapped to their backs.

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  1941 was the last year before the war that the Westfield/Columbia Compax was advertised and there are no civilian Compax bikes that I can find in any wartime catalogs. After years of collecting I have found this does not mean there was not any produced. As a matter of fact there was a special frame style not used before or after the war and not in any documentation that I have found so far. These have been found in both the lightweight style sold before the war and a balloon tire model that was previously not seen. I believe these were designed with the idea of filling military contracts. Though these contracts for Paratrooper bikes never came the “military style” Compax bikes were made and sold in civilian blackout colors to the civilian population and to military bases.

 Here is part of some “classified documents” found at the Columbia factory showing some of the design features the Military was looking for. The first picture is not a Compax but the two showing the pedals are of a Compax bike.

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  As already stated, the above folding bike is not a Westfield made Compax. I have been recently contacted by the owner and webmaster of the Liberator web site with the following information.

 Johan Willaert states;

  "The picture showing a man in a civilian suit holding a folded bike attached to some kind of backpack is actually a Huffman Model HF-777 Folding Bicycle ordered by the US Army with Contract Number W 294 ord-2239 in circa 1943...

The bike in the picture is attached to a slightly modified US Army M1928 Haversack.

Again it is not known how many of these particular bicycles were ordered and or tested by the US Army, but the Compax and this Huffman clearly illustrate that during WW2 the US Govt showed considerable interest in folding bicycles..."


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  The following are pictures of a Balloon Tire Compax with the military style frame made in mid-1942 according the serial number G52660A. I recently purchased this bike and did a complete tune up including taking it entirely apart then cleaning and re-greasing all parts. The only changes I made were re-painting the seat pan and pedal frames as those were rusted beyond use. One thing to note is although this bike is in gloss black with the typical blackout hubs and other bright work it has military issue o.d.  green grips. These are hard on the bars and I did not try to force them off for fear of wrecking them. I have no doubt they are original to the bike. Westfield did have a contract with the US military for full size men’s and ladies bikes and these were the style grip provided by the government for those bikes. Was this bike ever in the Army? We may never know for sure but it seems like it was made for that intent.

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Before Cleaning

 

                                                                    Newly found!

 1943 sales flyer shown below featuring the COMPAX MILITARY MODELS. Lightweight Model F-92L and Balloon Tire Model F-92H.  This document clearly shows the military style grips as standard equipment along with the “special frame brace at rear, giving extra strength for hard military use” as is stated in the flyer.

 

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   Please note the extra bar welded on the rear of the frame running from the seat mast to the bottom rear fork. This is the “military style” frame only seen during the war. Its was unclear what purpose it served but may have been to meet a requirement for increased strength or possibly to have a place to attach bags.  Another possibility is a point to strap the two halves of the frame together when in transport. Now that I have found the above Military Model Compax flyer the answer is clear. It was for added strength.

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before cleaning

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before cleaning

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  Please note the wood pedal blocks common for early wartime bicycles. These were used on civilian and military bicycles.

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before re-painting

  Next is a lightweight Compax with a military style frame with serial number J33428 dating it as being manufactured in early 1945. This bike was originally painted maroon with all the typical parts in wartime blackout. It had suffered a lot of paint loss and some things like the seat and chain guard being replaced. It had also been re-painted at some point in its life. I decided to do a complete restoration on this bike due to these factors. The reason I did it in military colors is I know the history of this bike. I purchased it from the nephew of the original civilian owner of this bike. His uncle was in the Navel Airship Service and was stationed at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Lakehurst New Jersey. This is the famous base that the Hindenburg disaster happened a few years previously. This bike was owned by the base and was purchased by the uncle after the war from the base commissary.

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before restoration

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before restoration

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before restoration

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 Post War Era
                          

  This now brings us to post-war Compax production. It is interesting to note the following letter dated in October 6, 1947. It states that for a number of years Westfield Mfg was not able to offer the Compax folding bicycles. The previous two bikes shown are proof that they did make them during the war. Why they never acknowledged that fact is still a mystery. The letter is also odd since this is dated late in 1947, presumably to announce the 1948 model Compax but the next two bikes that I will show are 1946 civilian models.

   To further add to this mystery is a Compax that just surfaced with serial number K47188 which makes is an early 1946 build. The odd thing is it is a pre-war style with the lug frame. Since Westfield stamped the serial numbers just before painting once a final build order came out it is possible that frame was a leftover from 1941 or 42. It is speculation of course but I can conceive of a scenario where civilian production was halted to make room for wartime production and an entire rack or more of these frames just got put aside. Then after the war but before the new frames were ready they got built up and sold. We will never know for sure but lots of that type of thing happened in 1946.

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  This Balloon tire Compax has serial number K149290 dating it to mid-late 1946. I gave it a complete reconditioning and it is an excellent riding machine. The rims were rusted completely and the front wheel suffered a bad impact that can be seen in the lightly bent front fork as well. I laced new rims to the original rebuilt hubs. The rest of the chrome is original. The original seat is too ripped up to use so I replace it temporarily with a new one that is 1940’s style. I plan on re-covering the old seat in the future.  It was missing its pedals so some older Torrington 10’s were attached. Other than that the bike is all original. I even kept the Massachusetts Plate on the rear fender.

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before cleaning

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    It was not until after the war that the Compax bikes sported the “Paratrooper” name. This was on both the lightweight and balloon tire models as can be seen on this and the following 1946 lightweight Compax. It is often incorrectly believed that only the balloon tire model was called a paratrooper.

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before cleaning

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before cleaning

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  These pictures demonstrate how rear hubs can be preserved by all the years of grease and dirt. This is the original chrome! Just de-greasing and a little chrome polish was all that was needed to bring it back to a like new finish. It was of course re-built internally as well.

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before cleaning

  Next is a lightweight Compax with serial number K151320 dating it also to mid-late 1946. This is just the way I acquired it and seems to be in original condition.

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   In 1947 the Compax got a new striping treatment on the frame. A parachute design was also added to the frame transfer design. Here is the original print from 1947. It was marked obsolete in 5-10-54 as that was the end of Compax Folding bike production.                                        

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   Postwar Compax production continued with the official addition of the balloon tire model.

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1947

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1948

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1948

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1949

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1950-1951

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1952

  1952 is the last year I have catalogs showing the Compax Folding Bike. As the 1947 print shown indicates they may have been in production for one or two more years but their heyday was over. Eventually Columbia would import a folding bike made in Denmark named the Commuter II. This would be offered in 1967 and 68 but they would not make their own folding bike again.

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