Bicycle History: More Great “Cycloventions,” Including the Bicycle Hearse, Baby Buggy & Fire Engine

More men of invention … are today wrestling with the problems of gearing, sprockets, pedals, tires and “rigidity of frame,” than ever turned to washing machines, churns or automatic freight car couplers. The crank … startles the cycling world daily with the weird combinations of the wheels within his own headThe Buffalo Enquirer, New York, March 21, 1896.

Truer words were never written. There were so very many cycloventions (a word I just invented), and surprisingly few new freight car coupling inventions. Go figure. Let’s start at the proverbial end of the line, with the Bicycle Hearse …

From cradle to grave

An enterprising undertaker [in Vancouver, Washington] with a bicycle has so rigged up the machine that he uses it with ease to carry coffins, big and little, into the country districts, and the odd sight of a man scorching along on a bicycle with a coffin strapped in front of him has been seen several times lately. The Daily Chronicle, De Kalb, Illinois, January 2, 1896.

Three thousand miles to the east, in Brooklyn, the “enthusiastic wheelman” William Webber also invented a Bicycle Hearse, it if it’s possible to invent the same thing twice. His model incorporated “a familiar tricycle model,” according to The San Francisco Examiner, June 21, 1896 and …

Thus the cyclist may now journey on the wheel from cradle to grave – from the first trip in the baby basket to the final spin in the bicycle hearse.

The baby basket? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s one example of this oft-invented cycling accessory that’s still around today in several different styles …

The Millionaire’s Baby Buggy

A New York millionaire “got the idea from a French humorous paper,” according to a story in the May 17, 1896 edition of The Chicago Chronicle. He cut out the picture/drawing of the French baby buggy and presented it to a bicycle manufacturer with orders to create just such a baby buggy machine. That’s what millionaires did back then. And what billionaires do today. You should see all the cool stuff Bill Gates gets custom made.

Chronicle: This machine cost $700, and while it is certainly a great novelty it is not likely to prove a popular baby carriage with the masses … Every fair morning [the baby’s nanny] is out with the baby, a boy about a year old, and he seems to enjoy the sport immensely.

The Bicycle Ambulance

For all those dangerous and painful times between the cradle and grave, well, how about the Bicycle Ambulance. There were stories about a few different versions, and the one above seems to be the most elaborate and practical. It’s also from 1896, perhaps the peak year of bicycle-related inventions, with 1897 a close second.

Here’s another bicycle ambulance attempt, and this one looks as though it could double as a camper when not in use at the funeral home …

Firefighting Bicycles

The volunteer firefighters of Ridgewood, Long Island came up with this double tandem, ladder-carrying bicycle …

Water! Firefighters need water. And so, “An inventor of Racine has secured a patent for a new bicycle fire engine which will be of value at places where there are good roads,” according to the December 5, 1896 edition of The Herald, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Here it is …

This bicycle fire engine carried a 32-gallon aluminum tank, 50 feet of hose, and was equipped with lanterns, fire axes, crow bars and pike poles.

Stay tuned for more cycloventions. I made up this word, what do you think? Will it catch on. Here’s the link to my previous history post: Bloomer Humor, the great wheelmen’s bloomer controversy and how they refused to just stay home and make dinner.


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