Bicycle History: “No Teeth, No Bicycle” and More Great Bicycle & False Teeth Stories

I have dug up a gold-tooth filled mine … of amazing and hilarious stories about bicycles and false-teeth. And now, I must share these stories with you and the the world.

Let’s begin, back in November, when I posted this story, which I claimed was the funniest cycling/dentistry story ever. Nothing can top this tooth-pulling catastrophe, I believed.

Oh, Steve, how naïve you are when it comes to the history of cycling and dentistry. You have so much to learn.

A few days ago, I came across this story … 

According to the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, May 3, 1896 … Billy Fredericks was out on a ride with three friends, and then …

One of them cracked an uncommonly brilliant joke. Billy Fredericks burst into a guffaw so sudden and forcible that it blew from his mouth the upper plate of his false teeth. The glistening array of teeth fell in the dust just in front of his machine and before he could turn aside he had passed over them. At that instant a peculiar hissing sound told him that his tire was punctured. He alighted and discovered that a false fang had pierced the rubber. Billy Fredericks pocketed his teeth and trundled his wheel back home, muttering cuss words as well as the alterations in his mouth would permit.

And so, for fun, I typed “false teeth” and “bicycle” into the search window of newspapers.com … and there were 173,340 entries. 

I narrowed it down to the years 1895 to 1898 and there were “only” 6,730 entries. This includes any page of any newspaper in which the word “bicycle” and the words “false teeth” appears, even if they’re not in the same story. And so, my first lesson: False teeth and cycling stories were quite popular back then. Fluoride and dental floss … not so much. And then, I found the connection between the two …

The bicycle it is said, has increased the demand for false teeth, and more particularly for gold tooth crowns. “Headers” frequently result in the loss of a grinder or twoThe Pottsville Daily Republican, October 10, 1896.

As I sorted through scores of stories, a few trends popped out …

Many false teeth were made from walrus tusks.

So many people, too many people, swallowed their false teeth … choked, and died.

There was a growing market for used false teeth.

And then there was this …

London claims to have the only dog with false teeth in the world. This canine curiosity is in the possession of Mr. E. Mosely, one of the best known dentists in the West EndThe Pittsburgh Press, August 28, 1898.

False Teeth In A Sewer

This was the headline in a July 28, 1897 story in The Pittsburgh Press. It seems that while working in the sewers, a couple of street cleaners found a “set of lady’s gold-mounted false teeth.” Being honest street cleaners, they turned them over to the proper authorities.

What does this have to do with bicycles?

Well, Superintendent Paisley, head of the bureau of highways and sewers, didn’t think some destitute woman had taken up residence in the sewers of the city. Instead, he quite wisely deduced that …

… some poor unfortunate wheelwoman had struck a snag at that point … and taken a header near the sewer drop. Paisley thinks that the sudden and unexpected contact with the pavement made the girl say “ough,” and then her teeth flew out of her mouth and went down the sewer drop. He will return the teeth to the owner, if she calls and offers sufficient proof that they belong to her.

It’s sort of like Cinderella and the glass slipper. I wonder if the mystery woman and Supt. Paisley met when she came to claim her false teeth, and fell in love. We’ll never know, as there was no follow-up story.

No teeth, no bicycle

Dr. Gillham was making his rounds, on his bicycle, collecting payment from his customers, according to the April 7, 1898 edition of the Xenia Daily Gazette, Ohio. He called upon a Mrs. Davis, who said her false teeth were just fine. Dr. Gillham presented Mrs. Davis with her bill, and that’s when all hell broke loose. Mrs. Davis said she didn’t have sufficient funds, could she pay him in a week or so.

The doctor then asked to look at the teeth, and when Mrs. Davis opened her mouth he dexterously inserted his finger, lifted out the teeth, put them in his pocket, mounted his wheel, with the remark to the lady, “No money, no teeth.”

The dentist rode but a short distance, dismounted to call upon another party to collect a bill, and when he came out, found Mrs. Davis trundling his bicycle into her yard. Dr. Gillham indignantly demanded the wheel and Mrs. Davis, pushing the machine inside her house, retorted, “no teeth, no bicycle.”

Dr. Gillman eventually got his bicycle back, but was unable to ride it home. It seems that “a darning needle had punctured both tires until they were like sieves.”

Another false-tooth puncture

You’re not gonna believe it, but it happened again!

A Chester lady, prominent in society, was spinning along the Darby telford road on her bicycle when a sudden sneeze sent her false teeth flying over the machine. Instantly dismounting, she searched in vain for the molars, and reluctantly remounting the wheel pedalled homeward. The loss worried the lady, whose social functions were numerous, and as her teeth had often been admired, a new set meant social oblivion for several days. While her pretty brow was drawn together in perplexity she noticed an excrescence in the tire, and, dismounting a second time, she was surprised and overjoyed to find the false teeth sticking like a burr in the pneumatic tire, which they had puncturedAltoona Tribune, Pennsylvania, October 21, 1895

And that’s the tooth …

Here’s the link to my five books on biking in France (Provence, Normandy, the Loire, Bordeaux and the Dordogne), plus Numbskull.

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