It took a year and a worldwide pandemic and lockdown, but I’ve researched, written and finished my book on the wild and wacky – and true – cycling stories from the first golden age of cycling: The 1890s.
It’s all about the velo-douche and the propeller bike; lions and tigers & bears … and bikes; a flying bicycle (really, it flew); a bicycle built for 20; the bicycle hearse and bicycle ambulance; the crime and punishment chapter; the bicycle bullfighter, the bicycle as a love machine; bicycle submarines; the Eiffel Tower bike. And, of course: Arthur Roadhouse, the boy with no legs and only one arm who rode like the wind on a special bike. And Baby Bliss, the 500-pound cyclist, the Great Blondin, women on wheels and … I better stop here. You get the idea. Working on this book was almost as much fun as climbing Mont Ventoux on my bike – and it kept me sane during some trying times.
Here are six (of the 55) chapters. Plus, highlights in visual form from several more chapters. I hope you’ll read this post, and, if you’re interested in the complete book, here’s the link on etsy.com.
Are you ready? Off we go, back to the golden age of cycling and all the crazy cycling stories …
Chapter 1: The Propeller Bicycle, Velo-Douche & Bicycle Lawn Mower
Hardly a day passes but somebody invents a new kind of bicycle. Philadelphia Inquirer, December 2, 1894
The age of invention was led by Thomas Edison, who invented everything but a bicycle. Or did he? I’ll get to Edison (in Chapter 31), and his failed bicycle idea. Here are three of my favorite bicycle inventions, with plenty more to come …
A Twin-Screw Bicycle
This was the headline of a story that ran in the October 29, 1893 edition of The Sun, New York. It told the story of the propeller-bike invention of Frederick Heller, a Caldwell, New Jersey man who was a “prominent cyclist” and a plumber by trade. Because Heller had to travel from house to house, all around town, installing gas fixtures, he “set about to devise some scheme that would get him around the ground faster that an ordinary bicycle could be propelled,” according to the newspaper.
Heller was inspired by the screw propellers used on steamships. He thought: I can put one on my bicycle? His first design had a single screw “driven by a leather belt, which passed round a large drum at the axle of the rear wheel.”
This worked, but Heller thought two propellers would be better and more powerful than one, and added another. “The propellers used are made of brass and are similar to those used as electric fans,” the article stated, adding Heller “has only recently perfected his invention, but he says that within the past week he has beaten most of the local riders and some pretty good horses. He has made an application for a patent on his schemes and says he would not sell it for big money.”
The reporter from The Sun got to watch an exhibition of Heller and his propeller bike and wrote that …
The road was muddy, and the rain poured down steadily, and the cyclist claimed he could not give the device a proper showing. He came down the street, however, at a rattling rate, and the fans made a noise not unlike a miniature windstorm. They revolved so fast, indeed, that a steady stream of water could be seen shooting out from behind, and that, mixed with the mud that the back wheel threw up, made the rider look like a comet, for a trail of mud and water extended for some distance in the air behind him as he whizzed along. Two people in a carriage who were driving in the same direction as the bicyclist, appreciated the fact that something unusual was attached to the wheel, for a shower of the muddy water flew up in their faces as he dashed past, and it frightened their horse so that it looked for a time as if a runaway would occur.
There’s nothing like a nice, refreshing shower after a long ride. So, let’s combine the ride and the shower, and save some time. This must have been the thinking of not one, not two, but at least three inventors, one each in the United States, Great Britain and France – the world’s three leading centers of bicycle inventiveness. And good hygiene.
Let’s rinse off in chronological order …
The first story was printed in Miners Journal, Pottsville, Pennsylvania, May 25, 1897 …
At the recent cycle show in Paris, a prominent English manufacturer presented a novelty called a “Velo-Douche,” which is an eminently practical device for combining exercise and the morning ablutions.
Ablutions? Why, that’s the fancy word they used back then for washing.
Next up, in the August 6, 1897 edition of the Frankfort Review, Kansas, was a story about Adolph Brinkmeyer, a Minnesota inventor, who came up with pretty much the exact same concept.
It consists of an ordinary bicycle, with the wheels removed. Attached to the rear sprocket is a little pump, which connects with an up-running pipe terminating in a spray arrangement like that on a sprinkling-can. By placing the machine in the bath tub partially filled with water and pedalling a la wheelman all the delights of a cool spin in the park can be combined with the exhilarating joys of a shower-bath.
The third story appeared in the Algona Courier, Iowa, January 28, 1898. A French bicycle manufacturer came up with a velo douche similar to the first two, with an added feature …
The tub can be divided into two compartments, one containing hot water, and the other cold water, and the cold and hot douche may then be used at will.
New remember, it’s the 1890s, and plumbing – and indoor bathrooms and/or showers – weren’t quite as advanced as they were soon to become. Baths were the norm, and showers were for the hoi polloi, you know, the Rockefellers and Carnegies of the world, who, I’ll get to because … they too were caught up in the cycling frenzy of the times and were dedicated wheelmen.
Bicycle Lawn Mower
Thomas Caldwell of Newburg, New York was a lawn mower mogul, the holder of more lawn mower patents than any man alive, and head of the Caldwell Lawn Mower Company. One day, his son, Harry, tasked with mowing the lawn, said something along the lines of: “Father I propose that you make an attachment of a lawn mower upon my wheel to ease the burden.”
“Aha,” said Papa … and the rest is history.
The machine is made with an ordinary bicycle hind wheel and a 20 inch mower in the place of the front wheel. The mower wheels have rubber tires, and they run just as smoothly as a bicycle itself … and a lawn can be gone over in one third of the time it takes to do it with an ordinary hand mower. Bucks County Gazette, Pennsylvania, September 5, 1895.
The Caldwell bicycle lawn mower didn’t catch on, for some unknown reason. But, if you do a Google or Pinterest search, modern versions have become quite popular in recent years, perhaps due to the quest for a greener way to cut grass. And how cool they look.
Chapter 3: Dogs & Bicycles … The Battle Begins
Soon after the first wheeled, human-powered machine was created, and the first velocipedist headed out for a ride, a dog gave “chafe.”
That’s how they wrote the word chase way back in the 1700s, using what was called the Long S.
I found evidence of the devilish delight that dogs take in chasing bicycle-like vehicles as far back as 1793. Really … 1793! For real. This was the same year Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were beheaded. George Washington was president of the United States and Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain. I believe I’m the first to discover this connection and find documentation of the original dog versus bicycle confrontations. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m hoping this discovery helps me become an official “bicycle historian.”
Here’s the story …
The Eagle has Landed
The story begins with Jean-Pierre Blanchard a Frenchman who devised a four-wheeled, bicycle-like vehicle in 1779. This rather bulky vehicle included an elaborate, carved wooden eagle with outspread wings on the front. Blanchard did a few demonstrations rides in Paris, and then took his machine to the grand palace of Versailles to show Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette what it and he could do. He was hoping to get their seal of approval – and some royal funding. The king and queen were not impressed, according to the Paris Journal, and Louis “promptly turned it down as unworthy of adoption or even respectful attention.”
Blanchard turned his attentions elsewhere, and he was one of the first to fly a hot-air balloon, and on January 7, 1785 he and his passenger were the first to cross the English Channel in a balloon. This feat gained Blanchard the fame he sought, and he toured the world, giving demonstrations. He traveled to the United States, and Philadelphia, in 1793, where he became the first person to fly a hot-air balloon in North America. George Washington attended one of the flights. Blanchard brought along the “carriage” as part of his grand exhibition, but Philadelphians most likely strolled past, without noting the wooden eagle and wheels, asking one another: “Where’s the balloon! Where’s the balloon?”
Blanchard, who was quite the showman, placed advertisements in the Philadelphia newspapers for “his balloon & his carriage, running without horfes.” The September 16, 1793 advertisement (above) in the General Advertiser (above) strongly recommended that “Gentleman who have dogs accusftomed to the chafe are requefted not to bring them along on account of the eagle [on the carriage] which imitates nature to perfection.”
There you go, proof dogs have been chafing cyclists for more than 200 years. And so it began …
Never Kiss Your Wheel
This story, from the February 10, 1877 edition of the Boston Globe, is one of the saddest, strangest cycling stories I’ve found.
One day, on the Boulevard Periere, Paris, a mad dog started in pursuit of a velocipede, mounted by a boy fourteen, named Dupraty, living in the Boulevard, No. 16. The chase was a terrible one, and ended in the fall of the boy. Happily it was in the iron of the velocipede wheel that the teeth of the mad bulldog closed. There ended the first act of the drama. The second follows. In an impulse of passionate joy on seeing her son saved from so great a danger, Mme. Dupraty pressed her lips to the wheel of the velocipede. Some hydrophobic virus had remained on the iron, and after an agony of a fortnight the poor mother died, raging mad.
The hydrophobic virus is rabies, which was quite common, and deadly, back then. Mad dogs were a huge problem. The rabies vaccine was invented by Louis Pasteur in 1885 – just a few miles from the scene of the incident, and eight years too late for Mme. Dupraty.
A Savage Assailant
Thomas Stevens (above) was the first to circle the world on a bicycle, completing his two-year journey in December 1886. Back then, they liked to use the term “girdle” when they talked about going around something, as in, Stevens “girdled the world.” He sent back dispatches from the far corners of the world, describing his exciting exploits … which, of course, included several run ins with an international collection of canines.
Here’s what he wrote from Turkey, in 1886 …
They have a noble breed of canines throughout the Angora great country; fine animals as large as Newfoundlands, with a good deal the appearance of the mastiff; and they display their hostility to my intrusion by making straight at me, evidently considering me fair game. These dogs are invaluable friends, but as enemies and assailants they are not exactly calculated to win a cycler’s esteem. My general tactics are to dismount if riding, and maneuver the machine as to keep it between myself and my savage assailant if there be but one, and if more than one, make feints with it at them alternately [or] caress them with a handy stone whenever occasion offers.
A Tasty Tire
A Philadelphia boy was riding down the street on his bike, “holding one end of a chain at the other end of which was a vicious-looking bulldog …”
At some point, according to the April 26, 1896 story in The Chicago Chronicle, the rear wheel of the boy’s bike rolled over a piece of raw meat, which affixed itself to the wheel. And yes, you guessed it …
The dog smelled the meat at once. He snapped at it, as it came around, but missed it. On the next revolution he was more successful, and got not only the meat, but a mouthful of wind from the tire … the wheel wabbled to one side and the rider shot over the handle.
I know this sounds implausible, but … I’m from Philadelphia. It’s the meat-sandwich capital of the United States (as in hoagies, cheesesteaks and roast-pork sandwiches). So, it’s definitely possible a piece of raw meat could have been on the street.
What do you think so far? Here’s the link to get the complete book. OK, keep reading….
Chapter 4: The Bicycle vs. the Ostrich & the Kangaroo
Racing an ostrich with a bicycle was a big thing … in 1896. I found three stories about the bicycle versus the world’s largest (and most flightless) bird. I checked, and the ostrich can run as fast as 43 miles an hour. So, the cyclists in these races were at a bit of a disadvantage unless their bicycles had wings, or the race was down a steep hill.
The Cape Times initially reported “a peculiar experience” of a local cyclist, Donald Menzies. He was riding his wheel from Cape Town to Somerset, West Strand, when he came upon a curious ostrich that decided to run alongside Menzies and his bicycle. The ostrich is native to Africa and likes to roam the savannas and plains in search of food, and, perhaps, bicycles. Here’s the rest of the story, from The Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1896 …
After a few preliminary antics, the bird took it into its head to pace Mr. Menzies, and so long as it abstained from using its wings the cyclist and the ostrich managed a dead heat. However, after covering about half a mile in this way, the ostrich utilized its stumpy wings as sails, and spurted away as a record-breaking pace, leaving the cyclist far behind. After that the bird troubled Mr. Menzies no more.
According to ostrich exerts, Mr. Menzies and/or the newspaper were a bit off about the use of the wings. The ostrich uses its wings for balance, not speed. And to attract ostriches of the opposite sex.
Coronado Island, California
On Sunday last a large ostrich drawing a buggy weighing 280 pounds and a man weighing 137 pounds raced against time at Coronado and nearly overtook a fast wheelman over a half-mile course. Without a load, it is believed that an ostrich could easily distance the fastest bicycler in the world. The Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1896.
Another article, from The Buffalo Enquirer, provided a few more details about this race. The big bird’s name was Napoleon. After his race against the cyclist, Napoleon and his “trotting mate,” Prince, were hitched up to a buggy and …
They made speedy time and seemed to enjoy the sport as much as the spectators. The trainer of the birds hopes to get them down to still finer work, so that the old story of ostriches outrunning the fleetest horses will be proven true … They are the only pair of driving or trained ostriches in the United States.
A Colorado man, Ben Allen, also had a racing ostrich, which he brought to the Nebraska State Fair, according to The Chicago Chronicle, September 20, 1896. The story says Allen’s ostrich is the only racing ostrich in the world, but we know this isn’t true. Just ask Napoleon and Prince.
Allan’s 18-month-old ostrich, whose name was W. W. P., weighed about 200 pounds and was hitched to a 90-pund cart with pneumatic tires.
It is said that the driver [Allen] has never yet had the courage to let the bird go as fast as it can, so nobody knows just how badly he could shatter the pacing record if he were given a chance. The long-legged flyer was used to pace Bertie Banks, a crack bicycle rider, and went an eighth of a mile in 21 seconds at the first trial, Allen using no reigns, but guiding and controlling the pacer with a whip … Mr. Allen hopes to speed the bird on a mile track against a trotting horse next year. He says it is thoroughly domesticated, is not fretful of the harness, and he believes it will yet make a brilliant record on the race track.
Did W. W. P. ever race a horse? I checked and found this sad story, in several papers, from March 10, 1897 …
DENVER, Colo., March 9. – Ben Allan, the owner of the famous harness-broke ostrich “W.W.P.,” intends to bring suit for $10,000 against persons who fed the bird with cigarette buttons, resulting in its death. Allan claims that that amount alone will cover his loss on contracts with racing associations, where the ostrich was to have been an attraction. This was the only ostrich in the country trained to harness.
A cigarette button? They were buttons used to advertise cigarettes.
Hop to it
I could only find one bicycle-versus-kangaroo story, which was a bit surprising and disappointing. You’d think there would have been several more based on the ostrich-mania. This story ran in newspapers across the country, all with the same drawing (above) …
Bicycle race promoters are striving after the sensational. A Boston firm has imported a kangaroo to race with wheelmen. In the matter of speed the kangaroo is hitherto an unknown quantity, and if the animal can really be induced to race under civilized conditions, the results should be of scientific as well as sporting interest and value. The Atchison Daily Globe, April 6, 1898
It seems as though the kangaroo, which could be induced to box, did not take kindly to the idea of racing a bicycle, as there were no follow-up stories. A kangaroo can comfortably hop along at 15 miler per hour, and spurt as fast as 44 miles per hour. So, perhaps a better race would have been: Ostrich versus kangaroo. My money is on the ostrich.
Chapter 5: The Boy Without Legs Who Rode Like the Wind
I stumbled across this paragraph in St. Louis Globe-Democrat, from August 22, 1895 …
OK, I had to find out more about Arthur Roadhouse and the 508-pound Baby Bliss.
Here is the greatest of all bicycle freaks … Champaign Daily News, Illinois, October 28, 1895.
This was the first sentence in the article that introduced the world to young Arthur Roadhouse, who was 12 or 13. It was a syndicated story that ran in scores of newspapers across the country, followed by at least one other syndicated story in 1896. And, yes, it was quite the cruel headline.
Arthur was born missing his right arm, and with legs that extended down to just above where his knees would have been. This distinction is important, and is what made it possible for Arthur to later ride a specially designed bicycle.
Growing up, the determined boy “being naturally of a very industrious turn, he has learned to sew on buttons, whittle, saw, drive nails and do many other useful things, besides being able to play ball, climb trees and otherwise enjoy himself as boys of his age generally do.”
The bicycling craze was in full bloom by the mid 1890s, and watching all the other boys ride “left him in body more hopeless and helpless than ever.” It just didn’t seem possible, despite his industrious and determined nature, that little Arthur would ever be able to ride a bicycle. And then, “a neighboring bicycle manufacturer agreed to make a wheel which the boy could ride, and he did so.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1895 …
His one hand guides the handle bar and bars of steel lead up from the pedals to the short stumps which he has known as legs. Strange to say, he experienced very little trouble in balancing the machine … after three or four hours’ instruction and practice he made half a mile on a track in less than three minutes. He can now do a mile in less than five minutes, and expects to reduce this time to four minutes … He has learned to dismount, and can handle his wheel rapidly and without assistance. He has to be assisted, though, when he mounts, but he expects to soon to be able to do this lone. No boy of his age in town can give Arthur much of a start in a mile race, and most of them have to play second fiddle.
At the end of the first syndicated article about Arthur was an interesting paragraph: “De Kalb seems to have more than her share of bicycle riding cripples. A year ago one of the young women of the town had a leg taken off by the [trolley] cars. She now rides a bicycle very credibly, it is said.”
Bicycles helped level the playing field and provided opportunities for fun, adventure and exercise for a wide range of people with disabilities back then, an age when having a disability often meant limited opportunities. Stay tuned for the story of an amazing, one-legged trick rider.
After the flurry of stories about Arthur in 1895 and 1896 … silence. Except for this one sentence in the December 16, 1897 edition of the Sterling Standard, Illinois: “Arthur Roadhouse, of Room 9, is on the sick list.” It must have been a really slow news day.
And then, more than 40 years later, another mention of Arthur: He attended the October 5, 1940 wedding of his nephew, John B. Roadhouse, who married Barbara Shepard in Granville, Ohio. Arthur attended the wedding alone, according to the story.
Arthur died on December 27, 1940, at the age of 55. I hope he had a happy life, filled with lots of bike rides.
Chapter 6 is all about Baby Bliss – here’s the link on this blog. The Baby’s photo is below.
Chapter 13: The Dogs of War Attack
The title of this chapter was the headline in most of the newspapers that ran this story because, well, it’s such an obvious cliché, which is one of the foundations of headline writing. Some papers went with: Let Loose the Dogs of War. I like this one better. More Shakespearian.
It seems the Germans were concerned about the rising number of bicycle-mounted troops in the armies of several of the surrounding countries. For every offense there must be a defense, and they decided the best counter was “a decision to train dogs to drag bicycle riders from their wheels,” according to a story in the April 21, 1897 Morning News of Wilmington, and dozens of other papers.
What breed? The German Shepherd would seem a logical choice, as they were abundant in Germany. And mean. Or the Doberman. If I saw a Doberman running toward me and my bike; I would immediately lay down my arms and surrender.
And yet, they settled on the Great Dane “as his size and strength make him a powerful and effective antagonist.” This was before Marmaduke – the gentle giant.
According to the story …
At Berlin there are now 1,000 of these great dogs in training. Every day for the past three months they have been taken to the parade ground and been given lessons in distinguishing the German and Austrian uniforms from the French, Italian and Russian, for it is necessary that they should discriminate between friend and foe. Then they are taught to rush upon a bicycle mounted enemy and dismount him.
My first thought was: Who’s the poor private who has to clean up the parade ground?
Wait, there’s more to this story …
It is conceded by military experts that an advancing line of armed bicycle riders could be thrown into utter confusion by a much smaller number of these trained Great Danes. But if both sides have the dogs – as they will if the present plans are carried out – then it would be dog fight dog, and a battle of brutes that must first be decided before the human combatants measure skill and courage.
I think this is the type of arms (and paws) race that led to World War I.
Chapter 21: The Bloomer Girls Make Their Stand
Bloomers, bloomers, bloomers … they were a hot-button topic in the 1890s. The stuff of cartoons (above), and controversy.
The Brooklyn Citizen newspaper “is in favor of modified bloomers for women,” according to an October 25, 1893 story. However, there was a caveat …
The trouble is that there are some women who go to the extremes. Our representative saw a sight last Sunday on the Boulevard that would disgust the most enthusiastic advocate of bloomers. On the porch … sat a female with tight pants, not bloomers (perhaps they belonged to her brother), low cut shoes and tight stockings.
It was more of the same in England, according to the November 18, 1893 edition of The Nottingham Guardian, which stated that several women had written to the Daily Telegraph to express their disgust over the “shocking and painful spectacle” of women riding about in “cycling costumes.” Here’s what one woman wrote …
I contend that this proceeding is demoralizing, and calculated still further to lower the standard of man’s respect for women, now, alas, so marked a feature of the age in which we live … If it be illegal for a man to wear women’s attire in public, it is not equally so for a woman to assume that of a man?
Wow, woman-on-woman bloomer shaming. Not to mention the fact that cross-dressing was illegal back then. While, in retrospect, the bloomer controversy seems silly today, it does illustrate the problems women faced in a male-dominated world. And how rigid their attire requirements were. Here’s something from the website of the National Women’s History Museum that provides some perspective …
The bicycle, in many ways, came to embody the spirit of change and progress that the women’s rights movement sought to engender … Women soon found that the traditional dress of corsets, bustles, and long voluminous skirts impeded the supposed ease of bicycle travel … this prompted a change in women’s fashion including lighter skirts, bloomers (sometimes known as divided skirts), or even trousers to allow for a less cumbersome ride.
A Frantic Finish
OK, back to the wacky stories. This one is from the September 23, 1894 Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York.
There was a series of bicycle races held in Louisville, Kentucky. The fifth and final race of the day featured women. Wearing bloomers. Which was apparently a big deal because …
The people became frantic to see the women in bloomers, and acted disgracefully. It was a fine race except at the finish, when the spectators crowded into the track and the riders were thrown to the ground … Never before in Louisville had there been seen such a conglomeration of black-stockinged legs, torn bloomers, and broken bicycles, all mixed up indiscriminately with the surging crowd.
Loose Hips Sink Quips
Why will the sex that Divine Providence has made full at the hips and small at the knees insist on wearing bloomers that fit like a glove over the hips (where they should be full to disguise the figure) and bag excessively at the knee (where they should be drawn in with propriety and to the benefit of the users’ good looks … we do think she should dress a little less like a Chinaman and a little more like the creature of sweetness and light she is naturally. Take a little of the fullness out of the bottom of the bloomer and put it on the hips and the suit will be a little more of a thing of beauty than now … Don’t wear leather leggings, that make you resemble a fleshy Dutchman, but wear neat, snug-fitting cloth ones to match your suit. The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, April 28, 1895.
Wow, these few sentences managed to insult women, people from China and large Dutch people.
Release From Bondage
Release from the fearful bondage of long skirts is surely coming for women. It is coming through the bicycle, the gymnasium and the swimming school. Akron Daily Democrat, Ohio, January 17, 1895
… one of the least noticed reforms of the bicycle, yet one of the greatest, is … the doing away with corsets and heavy lacing. This means for women that, though the waist may be larger, the lungs will be fuller, and the whole system will be improved and given an opportunity to glory in the fountain of health … every woman in the land would possess a machine did she but know of this one great benefit. The Standard Union, Brooklyn, January 11, 1896
Here’s a great “you get what you deserve” story from the July 23, 1895 Brooklyn Daily Eagle …
Jacob Huey [a South Carolina politician] went to Columbia and saw women in bloomers riding bicycles for the first time. He wrote a letter to a newspaper criticising the women, when their friends laid for him and pounded him the next time he appeared in the city. He apologized for his ungallant remarks.
Perhaps the tide was turning, in favor of bloomers. The New York Times, on August 26, 1895, included a story, from Little Rock, Arkansas, about the court case of a Mrs. Now, who was arrested … for wearing bloomers. Judge Wilson sided ruled …
Women have a constitutional and God-given right to ride a bicycle, and they are bound to have some comfortable and appropriate dress therefor … As it is, the case is dismissed at the city’s cost.
The Anti-Bloomer Brigade Meets Its Match
The young men of Edmeston, New York decided they needed to form an anti-bloomer brigade, according to the September 17, 1895 edition of the Evening World, New York City. And so, the women of Edmeston formed an anti-dude league and pledged to …
… refrain from associating with young men who wear pink shirts with white collars … and pledge myself to the use of all honorable means for the suppression at all times of vealy young men of the dude class.
Vealy? It means, in this case, a young man who resembles a young calf, or a piece of veal. Yeah, take that you vealy dudes!
Here’s a bloomer joke from the March 4, 1896 edition of The Hutchinson News, Kansas …
He (grumblingly) – What on earth do you want a bicycle for? Do you know what they cost?
She – I cannot help what they cost. I must have one. I picked up a pair of bloomers at bargain the other day and I cannot afford to let them go to waste.
Zimmy Speaks Up
The sport of cycling was huge in the 1890s, perhaps second only to “base ball” in popularity. The biggest cycling star of them all was Arthur “Zimmy” Zimmerman. And so, what he had to say on the subject of bloomers was news. According to the March 28, 1896 Evening Bee, Sacramento, California …
I have been asked what I think of bloomers. At the risk of producing a shock among my readers, I must say they seem to constitute the only rational costume for a woman when on a wheel … My ideas respecting bloomers were not so pronounced until I had been to Paris. The first day I was there I stood stock still for three hours in one spot on one of the boulevards, watching the women go by. There were thousands of them, and every one wearing bloomers. It was an inspiring spectacle.
If the bicycle is as effective in equipping the country with good roads as it promises to be, every fair minded man will be willing to forgive it for the appearance of bloomers. Logansport Pharos-Tribune, Indiana, May 10, 1896
Only On the Bike
Slowly, grudgingly, bloomers were accepted. As long as women wore them while atop a wheel. Here’s what happened when they didn’t …
An absentminded new woman of Brooklyn who had been bicycling started out afoot to make some calls without changing her bloomers for her usual conventional garb. A mob of small boys soon brought her to her senses, and she fled to the protection of a hotel. The Morning Democrat, June 12, 1895
Sign of the Times
Let’s end this story with a tale of progress, from the July 9, 1897 edition of The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin.
A farmer near Stacyville, N.Y., who had a bicycle track in his fields, displayed the following sign:
Miss Etta Thorne, with four other young women, all in bloomers, went out on the track the other day. The farmer ran up to them and said: “Ladies, unless you change your style of dress you can’t ride on this course.”
No heed was paid to this, and the farmer tried to intercept the riders. He rushed about till exhausted, and then seated himself on a rock, while the ladies continued to spin around at high speed. Finally, jumping to his feet, the farmer declared. “Riding in such costumes must cease at once. Do you understand me?”
The young women dismounted, and, gathering about the farmer, talked of the merits of bloomers until he agreed to remove the sign.
Here’s the link to my post on the flying bicycles. Seriously, a flying bike? Here’s the link to the chapter on the bicycle built for 15 and 20 riders. And, here’s the Etsy link to purchase the entire book.
I’m going to stop here, but … but there’s so many more amazing, fascinating and hilarious chapters and stories in my book. Here are just a few of the highlights …