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The Wheel

The bicycle changed American society, business and culture more than any other invention of the 19th century. Technological improvements to a rich man's toy (Baron Draisine's walking horse) led to the introduction of the steerable velocipede in the 1860s. It earned its reputation as the "boneshaker" for obvious reasons.

Note: This introductory page is under construction.

As a social revolutionizer it has never had an equal. It has put the human race on wheels, and has changed many of the most ordinary processes and methods of social life. It is the great leveler, for not 'til all Americans got on bicycles was the great American principle of every man is just as good as any other man, and generally a little bit better, fully realized. All are on equal terms, all are happier than ever before, and the sufferers in pocket from this universal fraternity and good will may as well make up their minds to the new order of things for there will be no return to the old.

Scientific American
    June 27, 1896

An advertisement for Parisian Velocipedes in Harper's Weekly, Feb. 13, 1869, page 112.
Harper's Weekly, Feb. 13, 1869

An early advertisement illustrated Parisian Velocipedes by Wood Brothers Manufacturers.

"Harper’s Weekly is really the only consistent, comprehensive, week-to-week chronological record of what happened world-wide in the last half of the nineteenth century. The 56 years of Harper’s Weekly provide a continuous record of what happened on a weekly basis from 1857 through 1912."

— John Adler, Publisher www.HarpWeek.com

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 Bicycle, by Pryor Dodge, Flammarion 1996. 224 pp., 341 illustrations, 189 in color, 11 x 9 inches, $50. ISBN 2-08013-551-1. Also published in French (La Grande Histoire du Vélo) and German (Faszination Fahrrad - Geschichte, Technik, Entwicklung).  Cover shows etail of the Levocyclette, a lever-drive bicycle, 
made by Terrot & Cie., Dijon, circa 1905, the earliest manufactured bicycle with ten speeds. Terrot claimed that the alternating levers avoided the dead point common with cranks and thus allowed for easier hill climbing. From the collection of the Nationaal Fietsmuseum 
Velorama, Nijmegen, Holland.
New Yorker Pryor Dodge owns what is arguably the world's top private collection of antique bicycles and bicycle collectibles. It began 25 years ago when he acquired a high-wheeled bicycle, known as a Penny Farthing, for $600. He had the bike nickel-plated and enameled and crated to Paris where he rode it through the streets on his way to study the flute. Made of steel tubing, the bike has solid rubber tires and would have cost $125 when new in 1885. It's now worth nearly $10,000. His collection has toured many museums across the U.S. and is scheduled for East Coast showings in 2001 and 2002. Recent showings have included the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, the Oakland Museum of California and many others. His illustrated 1996 history of The Bicycle has been widely acclaimed as a work of art and scholarship. For more about this bicycle collector and historian, read The Bike Collector by Melik Kaylan at Forbes.com.

The Bicycle Museum of America
Bicycles: History - Beauty - Fantasy
Classic & Antique Bicycle Exchange
Columbia Bicycle History
Pryor Dodge Collection
The Exploratorium - Cycling
Franklin Institute - Cycle of Heroes
FI - Getting a Handle on Technology
The History of the Bicycle
Japanese Bicycle History Research Club
Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum
National Bicycle History Archive of America
Oakland Museum of California
Pedaling History Bicycle Museum
Rideable Bicycle Replicas
UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History
Velorama Nationaal Fietsmuseum
The Velocipede
Victorian Station - Bicycling
The Wheelmen

Next: 1880

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.