Interview: Bloomberg Magazine

1854 Cycling Co. Is Creating Good Jobs for Ex-Cons

Bloomberg) -- The 1854 Cycling Co. wears its influences on its grease-stained sleeves. The bicycle company is named for the year Franklin Pierce, who had become the 14th president thanks in part to a promise to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, began pressuring officials in free states to arrest former slaves and return them to their owners in the South.

One such young former slave, 19-year-old Anthony Burns, was arrested in Boston and sent back to Virginia, leading to a protest in nearby Framingham, Mass., led by abolitionists Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau, and William Lloyd Garrison. There, Garrison held a match to a copy of the Constitution, calling it "a covenant with death, an agreement with hell."

“It was a symbolic act that divided the country between those who supported slavery and those who didn’t,” says Brandale Randolph, the owner of 1854 Cycling, of Garrison’s actions. “And it set the wheels in motion for the Civil War. At the end of the Civil War they add the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed slavery nationwide.”

The bicycles themselves are sturdy and sleek and sport old-timey aesthetic touches such as vintage-inspired handlebars and leather saddles. More pointedly, they’re named after figures who fought for abolition—there’s the flagship Garrison and a pair of road bikes named for Ellen and William Craft, who famously escaped slavery in 1848 to become authors and lecturers.

“People were passing around my blog posts about why I was naming the bikes after certain people,” says Randolph. “My post on the Crafts—people were more interested in the story. I wish I had sold 70 bikes from that post, but even that getting passed around is a win for me.” At the beginning of November the company will unveil the Thoreau, a 500-watt electric mountain bike, at the Philly Bike Expo.

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Brandale Randolph