Thursday, December 3, 2015

Revolution on Wheels, Part Two

In the second half of the nineteenth century bicycle developments succeeded from stunt-man contraptions to popular transports. Their commercial evolution keyed progress in mass production techniques and added more constituents to the smooth road movement.

A high-wheel bicycle on display at The Old Castle, Rockport
Sandy Bay Historical Society photo
Forerunners of the bicycle called "boneshakers" during the 1860s had solid rubber tires and rotary cranks with pedals connected to the front hubs. Enlargement of the front wheel, wire spokes, and hollow tube frames generated the speedier "high-wheelers" of the 1870s, pictured above. The general public still hesitated. A pharmaceutical company selected velocipedes to dramatize its pain-killing remedy.

Analgesic advertisement
Gloucester Daily Times, June 18, 1891

The first "safety bicycle" seen in Gloucester was purchased by quarry owner Col. Jonas H. French for his son in 1883. Thirteen years later, perhaps after a trade-in, Gray's Bicycle shop displayed it to customers. "It is rather an odd pattern compared to modern wheels" mused the Gloucester Daily Times (GDT) on March 16, 1896.

Tinkerers, inventors, and industrialists all pursued their rewards in bringing people unprecedented mobility and comfort. Advances during the 1880s brought the steerable front wheel, chain-driven rear wheel, pneumatic tires, diamond-pattern frame, and pedals located ergonomically. The bicycle craze was on.

A safety-bicycle advertisement
Gloucester Daily Times, May 5, 1893
Adventurous riders could travel far and wide on machines that didn't require food, water, nor veterinary care. Four members of the Brooklyn Bicycle Club pedaled to Rockport in five days for a stay at the Linwood House in Pigeon Cove. GDT,  August 18, 1891.

It didn't take Rockport youngsters - not a narrow age group - long to apply wheels to entertainment.  " The amateur bicycle riders congregate almost every evening near the Beach Street school-house, which makes the starting point of a mile road course through the following streets: Beach to Granite, to King through Smith to the starting point. It is said that some of the riders have remarkable records over this course." GDT, August 21, 1894.
Local commerce kept pace. "The Cape Ann Tool Company is very busy these days making certain parts for bicycles." GDT, May 12, 1896.

Charles Cleaves riding on Granite Street, 1894
Sandy Bay Historical Society photo

Granite dealer Charles Cleaves took to wheels around Pigeon Cove. When the Rockport Cycle Club was organized in 1895 young men of the Cleaves family were original officer-holders. GDT May 28, 1895.
Beverage advertisement
Gloucester Daily Times, June 22, 1897
Now advertisers could use bicycles to promote pleasurable products, with gender equality. Women's suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony called bicycles " Freedom Machines"  that helped liberalize customs and costumes for fuller female participation.

 The Gloucester Daily Times initiated a "Chain and Sprocket" column to keep readers abreast of cycling news, particularly  regarding who was riding what. As winter subsided it reported on March 14, 1896 that "Gray's bicycle opening attracted a large number of ladies Friday afternoon, who were shown the large lines of wheels which Mr. Gray carries and beside received each and every one a handsome double jonquil. The store was prettily decorated for the occasion with palms and potted plants."
On June 24 it congratulated George Poland for riding from Boston to Rockport in a little less than 3 hours, "a pretty good time."

On September 24 it covered an 18-mile bicycle race through West Gloucester on a route originally laid out for carriages as "The Big Heater," starting and finishing on Western Avenue.
The Perkins & Corliss establishment, Buy Cycles
To these ripe market conditions the firm of Perkins & Corliss brought wit and energy. They installed the first air pump outside their store to inflate tires.  As the cycling season opened in 1896 they cultivated and sponsored its first celebrity, a Lanesville lad named Francis J. Reed.

On the previous Memorial Day,  Francis J. Reed had entered his first round-the-Cape road race. Partisans lined the streets of Lanesville to cheer him on as he led the pack through the village. A great shout went up when the announcement reached the Telephone Office that he had won the wheelmen's race. GDT,  June 1, 1895.

Three months later he pedaled to New Bedford to compete in the Hayland Smith contest touted as "the greatest road race of the year" that drew speedsters from across the country."While all admired Reed's pluck and courage in attempting this great race in his first racing year, very few thought he would get a prize. But he did just the same. He kept up his good work, worthily represented Cape Ann in the greatest road race of the year, and secured fifth place, his time for the 25 miles being 1 hour 11 minutes and 56 seconds." GDT, Sep 3, 1895.

The following March, Corliss & Perkins announced through the newspaper their challenge to the leading bicycle dealer: We, the undersigned, have a Cape Ann amateur rider mounted on one of the wheels for which we are agents, whom we will back or a $50 diamond, against any other amateur rider Mr. Gray can put into the field mounted on one of his wheels, this race to be run April 30, 1896 around the Cape.

The retail race was on.

1 comment:

  1. Martin, Great stuff about cycling on Cape Ann. Last year the GWC did an event with Lorenez Finison on the Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1900. It was a lens to explore Race, Sport, and Society. I know we did a podcast but I can't find it. I may have to reload it. Keep em coming. cheers, Henry