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The Popularity of Bicycles


Crescent Bikes

1896 found the United States in the middle of a bicycle craze. Though different types of bicycles had been around in the United States and Europe for years, recent technological innovation brought about changes in material and design that made the late nineteenth century bicycle a lighter, smoother, and faster ride than ever before. Doctors wrote about the health risks and benefits of cycling, scientists explained the physics of the bicycle's motion, while concerned critics discussed the changes in women's fashion that so much cycling would necessitate. By 1896, there were over 150 bicycle factories in the United States, producing over 1,000 different makes of bicycles for men, women, and children. They were used for recreation and exercise, and in some cases, even for political campaigning.

It is true that women heretofore, here and there, have been trying the machines in an apologetic, shamefaced sort of way, but in this year they have boldly come to the front as riders, challenging male competition, and making a fashion of that which before was an eccentricity. ...Women may ride in tights, but it is certain that men will never adopt the skirt. It is too dangerous. Man has not courage to risk the complications of an overthrow in a skirt. But whatever costume women may finally settle on for this arena, it is certain that they will not be driven from the wheel. They have joined the increasing army of those who are to roll about the world, and who now are numerous enough and powerful enough to assert their rights to the utmost limit. —Harper's Magazine, from Public Opinion, 16 January 1896


Wheelmen in the Campaign.

Walter H. Chamberlin of Chicago, secretary of the National Wheelmen's McKinley and Hobart club, was in the city yesterday. . . . to have S. L. Trussell, who is at present connected with the Republican state headquarters, take charge of the organization of the cyclists in Minnesota. . . . The object of the clubs is to do active work during the campaign and on eletion day. In the next six weeks there will be many parades and other demonstrations, in which the wheelmen's companies will take part. It will be a new feature in political parades, but will be one that will add wonderfully to their effectiveness. One of the pleasant duties will be to escort the distinguished speakers who may come to this city during the campaign. The wheelmen will also be of much service on registration and election days as couriers. —St. Paul Pioneer Press, 20 Sept. 1896


From a medical standpoint bicycling is valuable both as a prophylatic and as a curative agent. Like other outdoor exercises it takes the votaries away from the vitiated air of closed rooms; but it has several advantages particularly its own. ...Although we have seen that certain muscle groups come chiefly into play, all the muscles of the body are used more or less, and are thereby strengthened. ...The whole nervous system is highly benefited by bicycling. The rider must constantly use the senses of hearing, seeing, and feeling in order to avoid collisions, direct his machine, and keep his equilibrium. This exercise, therefore, is in a high degree apt to draw the mind away from its usual pursuits and cares of daily life. It is highly exhilirating and promotes sociability, since it is both pleasanter and safer to ride in company than alone. In women it is apt to overcome the impulsivenness and whimsicality which render so many of them unhappy. ...Bicycling is no longer a mere fashion that may fall into disuse and give way to a new one. It is a wholesome and inspiring exercise, and has provided of practical value as a means of rapid locomotion. —Dr. Henry J. Garrigus, in the January Forum, from Public Opinion, 30 January 1896

2 Bikers

BICYCLE FOR TWO.

Scientific American, 4 January, 1896.

A broad, broad smile dear Willie wears;
Of his face its a regular twister.
His bicycle suit is two sizes too small
To be worn by his athletic sister.
—Daily News, Denver, 20 September 1896

WHEELMEN IN PARADE.

Three Thousand McKinley and Hobart Adherents in Line. Display was Grand.

Three thousand wheelmen proved their loyalty to the McKinley and Hobart standard by parading the South Side boulevards last evening in honor of the sound-money leaders.... They rallied from the North, the South, and West Sides, waited patiently for hours for the long railwaymen's parade to pass, and two hours after schedule time they gave one of the most attractive and best-organized cycling parades ever witnessed in Chicago.

The sturdy South Side men, 1,500 strong, rode en masse to the starting point with flying capes and flickering lights, making a brilliant spectacle, one seldom seen on the boulevards, and never excelled.

Nearly the same number rolled in from the North Side. These riders also wore the white capes, and carried illuminating devices of all descriptions, from a calcium light on a three-wheel pneumatic gig to the pretty Japanese lanterns tied to the handle bars.

Several strong clubs came in from the West Side. Some of the latter organizations became lost, and were unable to get through the jam of people watching the other parade, failing to reach Congress and Michigan in time to start. --Daily Inter Ocean, 25 October 1896


REFORM BY THE BICYCLE.

The Wheel a Splendid Factor in Developing Citizenship.

Solving the Good Roads Problem.

What Seemed at First a Plaything is Revolutionizing Matters in Several of the States and Cities.

... In most of the States of the Union and in all the great cities, the bicycle vote has become a thing to be reckoned with. In New York it has bowled out the granite ring completely. Time was when a residence block couldn't be paved with asphalt, even if the property-owners were agreed on footing the bill.

... Everybody knows what the bicycle is doing for the good-roads problem.... The most radical of recent legislation is the new Connecticut law (statutes of 1895), which pledges the State to pay one-third the cost of one mile of road in each town each year, if the county and the town will each pay one-third... A better device could hardly be imagined for encouraging road improvement in the poorer regions. —Los Angeles Times, 26 July 1896


Cartoons on this Site Featuring Bicycles

  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan

© Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press


click a pic to learn more
Chronology

Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)


  • Feb 27: People’s Advocate: Reading Tillman's Speech
  • Mar 19: People’s Advocate: Pitchfork
  • Apr 4: The Ram’s Horn: Rescued
  • Apr 15: Sound Money: History Repeats Itself
  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • May 28: Prohibitionist’s convention, Pittsburgh, PA
  • June 16: Republican convention, St. Louis, MO
  • June 21: Denver New Road: Cleveland's Romance
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • July 4: Socialist convention, New York, NY
  • July 11: Democratic convention, Chicago, Illinois
  • July 9: Rocky Mountain News: A Soliloquy
  • July 11: Harper’s Weekly: Gold Bugs
  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • July 16: People’s Advocate: McKinley's Evil Sprit
  • July 18: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Bryan
  • July 22: Silver convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 25: People’s Party convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 22: Rocky Mountain News: Wall Street's Private Studio
  • July 25: Harper’s Weekly: Farmer McKinley
  • July 25: Judge: The Silver Candle
  • July 27: Chicago Record: Bryan's Tightrope
  • Aug 5: Rocky Mountain News: The Plain English of It
  • Aug 6: Sound Money: Spain and Rothschilds
  • Aug 8: McKinley accepts Republican nomination
  • Aug 9: Denver New Road: Bryan's Romance
  • Aug 12: Bryan accepts Democratic nomination
  • Aug 13: American Non-Conformist: Farmer Hanna
  • Aug 15: Rocky Mountain News: Bryan the Lion
  • Aug 16: L.A. Times: Aesop's Fox
  • Aug 18: Rocky Mountain News: Hanna the Wizard
  • Aug 20: Sound Money: The Cross of Gold
  • Aug 20: L.A. Times: Popocratic Witches
  • Aug 22: The Ram’s Horn: A Double Burden
  • Aug 29: Harper’s Weekly: McKinley the Veteran
  • Aug 29: Labor Advocate: Look at This
  • Aug 30: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Dime Museum
  • Sept 2: National (Gold) Democratic convention, Indianapolis, IN
  • Sept to Nov 1: McKinley front-porch campaign, Canton, OH
  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang
  • Sept 5: Harper’s Weekly: The Crown of Thorns
  • Sept 5: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Just the Bare Facts
  • Sept 6: L.A. Times: Comrades in Arms
  • Sept 6: St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Bryan Dollar
  • Sept 8: Early election day in Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 9: Rocky Mountain News: John Bull
  • Sept 10: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 11 to Nov 1: Bryan travels 13,000 miles by train, stump-speaking around the nation.
  • Sept 11: St. Paul Pioneer Press: The Divorcee
  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 12: Labor Advocate: Their Argument Misses Fire
  • Sept 12: The Ram’s Horn: Building Up His Business
  • Sept 12: Harper’s Weekly: Populist Supreme Court
  • Sept 12: New York Journal: Hanna's Funds
  • Sept 13: Boston Globe: The Silver Dog
  • Sept 13: L.A. Times: Uncle Sam's Circus
  • Sept 14: L.A. Times: Populist Pandora
  • Sept 14: Rocky Mountain News: Playing Upon a Single String
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Sept 18: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Against Turkey
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 19: Judge: Bryan's Cross
  • Sept 19: Labor Advocate: How They Love The Farmers
  • Sept 19: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Election-Year Friend
  • Sept 20: Boston Globe: Writ of Replevin'
  • Sept 20: L.A. Times: Populist Delilah
  • Sept 20: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: The Sultan Laughs
  • Sept 20: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: John Bull's Theft
  • Sept 21: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Robber And His Victim
  • Sept 24: L.A. Times: Resurrecting Secession
  • Sept 24: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Treachery
  • Sept 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Democratic Jonah
  • Sept 26: Harper’s Weekly: Silver Bullfight
  • Sept 26: L.A. Times: For Sale
  • Sept 26: National Reflector: Rings On The Hog
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 1: Pioneer Press: Silver Trust Hog
  • Oct 3: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Workingman's Friend
  • Oct 4: Raleigh New and Observer: Hanna and Dixon
  • Oct 6: Election Day in the state of Florida (not all states voted on the first Tuesday in Nov).
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 6: Pioneer Press: Silver Conversation
  • Oct 6: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Florida's Lifeline
  • Oct 8: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Democratic Florida
  • Oct 8: New York Journal: Confident Hanna
  • Oct 10: Harper’s Weekly: Three Witches
  • Oct 10: The Coming Nation: The Worker's Treadmill
  • Oct 11: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Resurrection
  • Oct 13: New York Journal: Hanna and Workers
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Bryan as Jack Cade
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Gold Balloon
  • Oct 15: Coxey's Sound Money: Uncle Sam Enslaved
  • Oct 15: Rocky Mountain News: Elected McKinley
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman
  • Oct 17: Coming Nation: Labor Exploitation
  • Oct 20: L.A. Times: Burning Cross of Gold
  • Oct 21: The Coming Nation: Socialism
  • Oct 22: Sound Money: The Old Party Scale
  • Oct 22: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna's Crown of Thorns
  • Oct 24: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Guiteau
  • Oct 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Bryan's Balloon
  • Oct 25: Omaha World Herald: Getting Women to Register
  • Oct 27: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna, Trusts, and Morgan
  • Oct 28: Puck: A New Civil War
  • Oct 30: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna in Lehigh Valley
  • Oct 31: Republicans announce “Flag Day,” then argue with Democrats and Populists over meaning of the flag
  • Oct 31: Harper’s Weekly: Democratic Wind-Up Toys
  • Oct 31: New York Journal: Buncombe Brigade
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud
  • Nov 2: McKinley wins presidential election
  • Nov 2: L.A. Times: Clown Bryan
  • Nov 4: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: Knock-Out Punch
  • Nov 4: St. Paul Pioneer Press: Elephant on the Silver Pillow
  • Nov 5: Sound Money: Prediction for 1900
  • Nov 14: Judge: Republican Tam O'Shanter
  • Nov 14: Coming Nation: Our Farmers Situation
  • Dec: Overland Monthly: Uncle Sam Looks Abroad
New Spirits
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