In 1893, William Morris set out on his career, first repairing bicycles. I know rather more about him than the other motor manufacturers, probably because of his later fame as Lord Nuffield. One by-product of this is an engaging biography of him written in 1955 by P.W.S. Andrews and Elizabeth Brunner which I think my father bought when it was first published. In this, they offer revealing anecdotes about the man and his business, but also valuable reflection on the business of making motor cars from very nearly the start.
Oxford was probably a good place to set up in business to repair bicycles, given their popularity among young men and the number of wealthy young men in the Oxford Colleges. If it was true of bicycles, it was all-the-more true of motor bikes and motor cars. It didn’t take Morris long to begin experimenting with motor bikes. Andrews and Brunner relate the story of the two bikes he made for the Stanley Show of 1902 at the Agricultural Hall in London. The story goes that he was trying to make the bikes while continuing with his business of cycle repair, essentially working all hours. Things became tense when parts for the new bikes were late arriving. When eventually they appeared, he worked non-stop for four days and nights before taking the bikes to London. When he arrived at Paddington, he arranged for horse transport to take the bikes, and he followed on the steam underground railway. He made the mistake of sitting down, for he fell straight to sleep. The train guard woke him only just in time to get to the show. The bikes were well received, but, soon after Morris’s businesses partner left, and Morris had to start again.
Motor bikes, however, were not where Morris saw the future, and so he set about designing a motor car. He had been running a business both repairing and hiring cars, and this had taught him a massive amount about what worked and what didn’t. His reputation had also attracted other manufacturers to appoint him as their sales agent in Oxford, and he was selling cars for well-known motor car makers such as Arrol-Johnson, Belsize, Humber, Hupmobile, Singer, Standard and Wolseley and motor bikes for Douglas, Enfield, Sunbeam and Triumph.
You can read much more in How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World