Minerva was in the early 20th century a Belgian motorcycle, bicycle, and car brand that had kings and movie stars among his clients. It was founded in 1897. Minerva started out manufacturing standard safety bicycles in 1897, before in 1900 expanding into light cars and Motocyclettes, particularly motorized bicycles which were a forerunner of motorcycles.
They produced lightweight clip-on engines that mounted below the bicycle front down tube, specifically for Minerva bicycles, but also available in a kit form suitable for almost any bicycle. The engine drove a belt turning a large gear wheel attached to the side of the rear wheel opposite to the chain. By 1901 the kit engine was a 211cc unit developing 1.5 hp, comfortably cruising at 30 km/h (19 mph) at 1,500 rpm, capable of a top speed of 50 km/h (31 mph), and getting fuel consumption in the range of 3 L/100 km (94 mpg-imp; 78 mpg-US). These kits were exported around the world to countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, and other British territories of the time.
As engine power increased, frame ruptures became increasingly common, and by 1903 Minerva had developed an in-frame design for their bicycles, with the engine mounted above the bottom bracket, while still also offering the clip-on kit. From 1904 Minerva began focussing more on car production, and while development and production of the Minerva motorized bicycles and motorcycles continued through to about 1909, they increasingly became a less significant part of the company.
Minerva engines exported to the UK powered the very first Triumph, among others. Motorcycle production would continue until 1909 or 1914, and during this period Minerva became one of the world's premier names in motorcycles and motorcycle engines.
In 1902 De Jong added cars to his production as well with a 6 hp four-cylinder model. In 1903 he founded Société Anonyme Minerva Motors in Berchem (Antwerp). Volume car production began in 1904 with a range of two-, three- and four-cylinder models with chain drive and metal-clad wooden chassis and the Minervette cyclecar. The 8-liter Kaiserpreis won the Belgian Circuit des Ardennes race in 1907.
Charles S Rolls (of future Rolls-Royce fame) was a Minerva dealer in England selling the 2.9-liter 14 hp (10 kW). The most important market for the manufacturer remained England, where at £105 the small 636 cc single-cylinder Minervette was the cheapest car on the market, followed by the Netherlands and France.
In 1908, Minerva obtained a worldwide Knight Engine license. The Knight motor, developed by Charles Yale Knight in the United States, used double sleeve valves and ran almost silently. All future Minerva's would use these engines. Sporting successes continued with the new engines including the Austrian Alpine Trials and Swedish Winter Trials. Customers for the Minerva would include the kings of Belgium, Sweden, and Norway, Henry Ford, and the Impressionist Artist Anna Boch.
During World War I Sylvain de Jong and his engineers were based in Amsterdam where they maintained the development of their automobiles. Minerva cars were used for hit and run attacks against the Germans initially with rifle fire and light machine guns from simply protected open-topped vehicles. These vehicles became increasingly sophisticated until trench warfare robbed them of the mobility needed for their hit-and-run tactics.