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The Wheel   -   1880   -   1885   -   1890   -   1895   -   1896   -   1897   -   1899   -   1900   -   1905   -   1910


The bicycle craze that swept America peaked in 1895 - 1896 when there were an estimated 10 million bicycles and more than 500 bicycle makers.  Bicycle sales reached $300 million in 1896 and accessories and repairs added another $200 million to the business.  The bicycle at left is a wooden framed Velocipede, often called a Boneshaker.  It was replaced by the so-called Safety Bicycle in 1888.  

Hyperlink to The Bicycle Outlook written in 1896.

1880  The League of American Wheelmen quickly became a powerful national special-interest group once it was formed in 1880 to ". . . promote the general interests of bicycling, to ascertain, defend and protect the rights of wheelmen, and to encourage and facilitate touring." The group, commonly referred to as The LAW, also sanctioned bicycle races and lobbied for road improvements. Bicyclists, known then as "wheelmen," were challenged by rutted roads of gravel and dirt and faced antagonism from horsemen, wagon drivers, pedestrians and local governments. More than 100,000 cyclists from across the United States joined the League. Today it continues "Working for a Bicycle-Friendly America" as the League of American Bicyclists.

The Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen, Ohio traces bicycle development and displays many of the machines once privately held by the Schwinn family. The Pedaling History Bicycle Museum maintains an extensive collection for public view near Buffalo, New York. Curator David Herlihy has organized a remarkable traveling exhibit for the Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum. The Bicycle Takes Off: From Boneshaker to Boom, currently is touring East Coast museums. The International Bicycle Fund offers a concise timeline for bicycle development and provides access to the National Bicycle History Archive of America. Visit the Canberra Bicycle Museum and Resource Centre for an Australian perspective, or travel to Japan to view the work of the Japanese Bicycle History Research Club in English or Japanese.

Rideable Bicycle Replicas began turning out spoked behemoths in 1973, using materials and techniques largely unchanged from the late nineteenth century for collectors, museums and circuses. The company specializes in the high-wheel "Ordinary," sometimes called by its British name, the "Penny Farthing" -- after the smallest and largest coins in circulation. The Classic & Antique Bicycle Exchange offers advice on restoration and acquisition, and the Wheelmen restore and ride antique bicycles.

Employees of the Salem Post Office at the Women's Christian Temperance Union Building. In 1880 the Post Office was located at Commercial Street and the corner of Ferry Street.  From left: Ben Taylor on a penny farthing or ordinary as it was sometimes called, George Hatch, Sadie Palmer, Rich Dearborn, Ella Dearborn and Captain L. Scott.

TITLE: 1304.  PHOTOGRAPHER: unknown.  COLLECTOR: Mr. Ben Maxwell.  RECORD: 1304.  OBJECT: b/w photo; negative.  DATE: 1880.  LOCATION: SPO.1.2.  IMAGE FILECODE: 50EC7C2B.JPG. Salem Public Library.
Photographer unknown, Ben Maxwell Collection
Salem Public Library Historic Photograph Collections

1880  Employees of the Salem Post Office at the Women's Christian Temperance Union Building. In 1880 the Post Office was located at Commercial Street and the corner of Ferry Street. From left: Ben Taylor on a "penny farthing" or "ordinary" as it was sometimes called, George Hatch, Sadie Palmer, Rich Dearborn, Ella Dearborn and Captain L. Scott. High-wheeled bicycles were sized to fit their riders by changing the diameter of the front wheel from 40 to 60 inches. The bigger the wheel, the faster the fixed pedals could drive the heavy machines. Ordinary riders contributed the slang "header" to the language because the big bicycles regularly pitched novice riders forward, over the handlebars.

Popular music noted the rise and fall of the bicycle and explains its popularity more entertainingly than most histories.
Joe Murphy's Exciting Song. Velocipede.  Composer, Lyricist, Arranger: Written by Joe Murphy, the Great. Arranged by Alfred Lee.  Published in San Francisco by M. Gray's Music Store, 621 & 623 Clay St., 1869. Lithographed by Britton & Rey, San Francisco.

Hyperlink to The Lester P. Levy Collection of Sheet Music at The Johns Hopkins University. 
Plate Number: 180 Call No.: Box: 061 Item: 131.
"He flew thro' the street, with the greatest of speed . . ." begins the chorus of Joe Murphy's Exciting Song, Velocipede. Riding a boneshaker on the streets of San Francisco in 1869 -- with or without a female passenger, or brakes -- would have made for an exciting journey. Published in San Francisco by M. Gray's Music Store, the popular song was performed at Maguire's Opera House.

The Manufacturer and Builder published a wide range of technical, scientific, political, medical and sociological stories -- as well as news -- that today would be found in a dozen different magazines.

Hyperlink to The Nineteenth Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals at the Library of Congress.

The Manufacturer and Builder combined stories that today would be found in Time, Popular Mechanics, Harpers, National Geographic and Forbes among others. This is the cover of Volume 1, Issue 1, published in January 1869. The Library of Congress, Cornell University Library and other institutions have collaborated to provide a unique online resource in The Nineteenth Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals, a collection that presents digitized editions of twenty-three popular periodicals. Search for yourself, or begin with 19th Century Bicycle News.

The Star Bicycle Galop by Charles W. Nathan was published in New York by Spear & Dehnhoff in 1882.  

Hyperlink to The Lester P. Levy Collection of Sheet Music at The Johns Hopkins University. Call No.: Box: 061 Item: 109.
Star Bicycle Galop by Charles W. Nathan was published in New York by Spear & Dehnhoff in 1882. The galop was a lively social dance allegedly of German origin that became popular in England and France before coming to America. The man put his right hand around his partner's waist and with his left hand held her right; the couple danced the galop's simple step side by side -- slide, close, slide -- around the ballroom to music in 2/4 time. The galop's spirited rhythm was written into the finale of many ballets, where the step was elaborated for theatrical effect.

In 1884, Thomas Stevens left San Francisco on a Columbia high-wheeler with the outrageous goal of becoming the first man to ride a bicycle across the United States. When he reached Boston, he decided to continue around the world.  Charles Scribner's Sons first published this adventure-travel classic in 1887.

Hyperlink to Stackpole Books, publisher of the new edition.
1072 pages, 6 x 9 inches, 108 engravings
$24.95 ISBN: 0-8117-2653-3 - January 2001

Around the World On a Bicycle
by Thomas Stevens
with a new introduction
and notes by Thomas Pauly
Stackpole Books
Mechanicsburg, Penn. - 2001

On April 22, 1884, Thomas Stevens left San Francisco pedaling a Columbia Standard model high-wheeler with the outrageous goal of becoming the first man to ride a bicycle across the United States. He reached Boston on August 4th and decided to continue around the world. He soon sailed to London for the ride across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The 50-inch high-wheeler was heavy and cumbersome; his supplies were limited to socks, a spare shirt and a slicker that doubled as tent and bedroll. Much of the country he traversed was wild. Yet he persevered, recording his colorful and often harrowing adventures during the three-year odyssey in a classic of 19th century adventure and travel writing first published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1887.

Next: 1885

See 19th Century Bicycle News for a selected bibliography and historical resources online, or use the links to find other sites of interest.


Copyright © 2001  Dennis Cowals
All rights reserved.