Leavitt & Bill

From Wooljersey

John W. Leavitt and John T. Bill created Leavitt & Bill bicycle shop, originally a Cleveland dealer in 1894, near the peak of the bike boom, in San Francisco. They sponsored the biggest bicycle race for years, the 100-mile relay race from San Francisco to Oakland, providing the 100-mile relay race from San Francisco to Oakland. They eventually added other bicycle brands, and expanded to locations in Oakland and Los Angeles.

In America, the transition from bicycle culture to automobile culture was a very easy one; bicycle people created the automobile, in many cases, and the initial goals of speed, ease, travel were common, as were much of the initial technology; wheels, chain drive, even the steering had ancestry in bicycles, with tricycles four-wheeled bicycles. Both were products of the industrial revolution and a very American flavor of capitalism and industry, both relied on a new concept of credit and payment plans. The staff of Leavitt & Bill were all originally cyclists.

The two partners dissolved the original Leavitt & Bill business, going on to form J. W. Leavitt & Co. and John T. Bill & Co.. The former became a very successful chain of automobile dealers, before a tragic end collapsed that business. The latter did motorcycle and bicycle business, before returning to the bicycle and remaining a bicycle business for decades.

John W. Leavitt of the O. C. W. has gone into partnership with John T. Bill of Salt Lake City, and the firm has purchased the Cleveland store, formerly conducted by E. E. Stoddard at 306 McAllister street. Mr. Bill is a brother of Louis C. Bill, manager of the Cleveland branch house next door.

CYCLING NEWS UP TO DATE - The San Francisco Examiner. October 07, 1894

The members of the Cycle Board of Trade sat down to their annual banquet last night at the Viticultural restaurant on Pine street. The affair was a particularly enjoyable one, spiced with speech and song, and the members of the board entered heartily into the spirit of the occasion.

James H. Hamilton officiated as toast-master and "Jimmie," as the boys famillarly term him, made everybody who sat around the big table sing a song or tell the sad story of their lives.

The following were present: James H. Hamilton, Frank McLaughlan, Joseph Holle, W. J. Kenney, H. Nagle, Edward Rener, G. W. Peyton, J. W. Cornell, C. F. Martwell, W. B. Morill and M. C. Baker. The following bicycle companies were also represented: White Sewing Machine Company, Pacific Novelty and Shipping Company, Optic & Brown, Manson Cyclery, Morgan & Wright, Leavitt & Bill, E. C. Stearns & Co., Devany, Hopkins & Co.; Pope Manufacturing Company, Goodrich & Co., Yosemite Cycle Company and Obenhauser & Hurley.

Cycle Men Banquet. - The San Francisco Call, July 21, 1899

The employees of Leavitt & Bill will hold their annual run to Camp Taylor to-morrow, as guests of the firm. There will be about twenty on the ride, under the leadership of John Leavitt.

Bicycle Notes. - The San Francisco Call - Jun 1, 1901

J. W. Leavitt & Co., Pacific Coast distributors of Overland and Willys-Knight motor cars, is the story of the growth of the automobile business. This concern, now the largest single distributors of motor cars in the world, has been identifled with the automobile business ever since machines were sold on the Pacific Coast.

The organization of J. W. Leavitt & Co. dates back even prior to automobile days.

In 1892 J. W. Leavitt came out to the Pacific Coast from Cleveland, O., and went into partnership with John T. Bill under the firm name of Leavitt & Bill, to distribute, bicycles. "Jack" Leavitt in those days was one of the champion bicycle riders in the country.

Headquarters of the Leavitt & Bill bicycle organization was maintained in San Francisco and branches opened up and down the Coast in all of the principal cities, including Los Angeles. They were soon the largest single distributors of bicycles in the world.


In 1898 "Jack" Leavitt found even his speedy bicycle too slow a vehicle for his ambition and bought a machine. It was a crude affair, and while Leavitt continued to sell bicycles, he "puttered" around with his automobiles, for he saw the day coming when the bicycle would give way to the motor car.

In 1905 Leavitt pulled out of the bicycle business, dissolving his partnership with Bill. J. W. Leavitt & Co. was then organized for the distribution of motor cars.

Besides Leavitt, the members in the new firm comprised A. D. Plughoff, A. R. Theisen and W. J. Pedlar, all of whom started in with the old Leavitt & Bill bicycle organization as office boys. Leavitt, of course, was made president of the new firm; A. D. Plughoff, vice-president and general manager; Theisen, secretary and treasurer, and Pedlar, assistant general manager, which positions all retain to this day.

HISTORY OF LEAVITT FIRM. - The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, California · Sunday, April 30, 1916

Links below added by me. - MF

The first business to advertise in city directories under the heading of “automobile repair” was, in fact, a bicycle shop, and it was located within the study area of this report. This was the shop of Leavitt and Bill, owned by John W. Leavitt and John T. Bill, at 307-309 Larkin Street. These two men imported several brands of bicycles to sell, and in 1904 they also began to sell Reo automobiles and to offer general auto repair services. In that year they had a staff of at least one, a machinist named George H. Woodward. John W. Leavitt went on to become an important automobile dealer in San Francisco, selling Oldsmobile, Oakland, Willys, and other major brands through the 1920s. Woodward later worked in auto repair and opened his own auto parts machine shop in the study area.


Below is a chronological sampling of Leavitt & Bill advertisements from California newspapers. Notice that the later ones feature motorcycles and automobiles. The ad copy and payment terms are also interesting; you can see the beginnings of the kind marketing and financing we know, now.

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