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The company began in 1885 when Siegfried Bettmann emigrated to Coventry in England from Nuremberg, part of the German Empire. In 1884 aged 20, Bettmann founded his own company, the S. Bettmann & Co. Import Export Agency, in London. Bettmann's original products were bicycles, which the company bought and then sold under its own brand name. Bettmann also distributed sewing machines imported from Germany.
In 1886, Bettmann sought a more universal name, and the company became known as the Triumph Cycle Company. A year later, the company registered as the New Triumph Co. Ltd., now with financial backing from the Dunlop Tyre Co. In that year, Bettmann was joined by another Nuremberg native, Moritz Schulte.
Schulte encouraged Bettmann to transform Triumph into a manufacturing company, and in 1888 Bettmann purchased a site in Coventry using money lent by his and Schulte's families. The company began producing the first Triumph-branded bicycles in 1889. In 1896, Triumph opened a subsidiary, Orial TWN (Triumph Werke Nuremberg) a German subsidiary for cycle production in his native city.
In 1898, Triumph decided to extend its own production to include motorcycles and by 1902, the company had produced its first motorcycle - a bicycle fitted with a Belgian-built engine. In 1903, as its motorcycle sales topped 500, Triumph opened motorcycle production at its unit in Germany. During its first few years producing motorcycles, the company based its designs on those of other manufacturers. In 1904, Triumph began building motorcycles based on its own designs and in 1905 produced its first completely in-house designed motorcycle. By the end of that year, the company had produced more than 250 of that design.
In 1907, after the company opened a larger plant, production reached 1,000 bikes. Triumph had also launched a second, lower-end brand, Gloria, produced in the company's original plant.
The outbreak of World War I proved a boost for the company as production was switched to support the Allied war effort. More than 30,000 motorcycles - among them the Model H Roadster aka the "Trusty Triumph," often cited as the first modern motorcycle - were supplied to the Allies.
Bettmann and Schulte fell out after the war, with Schulte wishing to replace bicycle production with automobiles. Schulte left the company, but in the 1920's Triumph purchased the former Hillman car factory in Coventry and produced a saloon car in 1923 under the name of the Triumph Motor Company. Harry Ricardo produced an engine for their latest motorbike.
By the mid-1920s Triumph had grown into one of Britain's leading motorcycle and car makers, with a 500,000 square feet plant capable of producing up to 30,000 motorcycles and cars each year. Triumph also found its bikes in high demand overseas, and export sales became a primary source of the company's revenues, although for the United States, Triumph models were manufactured under license. The company found its first automotive success with the debut of the Super Seven car in 1928. Shortly after, the Super Eight was born.
In 1885, when German engineer and inventor Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler together with his son Paul tested a motor-driven two-wheeler (with the output 0,37 kW), which he constructed. At that moment he didnít certainly suspected, that he is starting a development of motorbike. However Daimlerís motorbike hadnít been called motorbike yet. Daimler himself called his machine simply a bicycle and he didnít intend to improve it further (his bicycle served him only as a test-machine for his petrol engine). The result of this test (Paul drove more than 9km) has shown, that the petrol engine is able to run vehicles. The fact, that Daimler after some testing paid attention to four-wheel vehicles doesnít reduce his merit, that he was the first motorbike rider in the world.
When the Great Depression hit in 1929, Triumph spun off its German subsidiary as a separate, independently owned company, which became part of the Triumph-Adler Company. The Nuremberg firm continued to manufacture motorcycles under the Triumph brand until 1957. In 1932, Triumph sold off another part of the company, its bicycle manufacturing facility to Raleigh.