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Bicycle History

(& Human Powered Vehicle History)

National Bicycle History Archive of America

Historical Sources / Museums / Exhibits - (Africa, America, Asia, England, Ireland,


Chronology of the Growth of Bicycling and the Development of Bicycle


by David Mozer

Note: Many people claim credit for inventing the first bicycle. The answer to the question
often depends upon the nationality of who you ask; the French claim it was a Frenchman,
Scots claim a Scotsman, the English an Englishman, and Americans often claim that it was
an American. Since the early 1990's the International Cycling History Conferences, with
proceedings Cycle History (San Francisco), has worked to get past the jingoism. Our
current understanding of the history of the bicycle suggests that many people contributed
ideas and developments:

Date Development

1418 Giovanni Fontana is credited with building the first human powered land vehicle --
had four wheels and used an continuous rope, connected via gears to the wheels.
Images and more detailed description don't seem to exist.
1493 Other bicycle histories websites include a sketches showing a
primitive version of a bicycle, purported drawn by Leonardo
da Vinci, that surfaced in 1974. Experts consider the sketches
a hoax: Further examination of the drawings indicates these
are not by da Vinci's hand. The speculation that these are a
WE WOULD LOVE sketch by a pupil after a lost drawing by da Vinci is also
YOUR SUPPORT! considered false. An age test was performed, but the library in Milan (belonging to
Our content is the Vatican) conceals its negative outcome, see
provided free as http://www.cyclepublishing.com/history/leonardo%20da%20vinci%20bicycle.html .
a public service!
1791 Comte de Sicrac is credited with building the "celerifer" - purportedly a hobby horse
with two wheels instead of a rocker. This is now considered a patriotic hoax created
by a French historian in 1891. It was debunked by a French researcher in 1976. In
IBF is 100% fact, a Jean Sievrac (!) of Marseille obtained an import price for a four-wheeled
solar powered
speed coach called celerifer in 1817.
? Heinrich Mylius' bicycle, the Heimat Museum, Themar, Germany
Variously called the running machine, velocipede, Draisienne
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and dandy horse, it was invented by Karl Drais, in response to
widespread starvation and the slaughtering of horses, the
consequence of a crop failure the year before (caused by the
eruption of Tambora). It had a steer-able front wheel. This is
the first appearance of the two-wheeler principle that is basic to
cycling and motorcycling and minimizes rolling resistance. The
velocipedes were made entirely of wood and needed to be
balanced by directing the front wheel a bit. People then did not
dare to lift the feet off safe ground, therefore the velocipedes were propelled by
pushing off with the feet. After the good harvest in 1817 riding velocipedes on
sidewalks was forbidden worldwide, since the velocipeders used the sidewalks, and
because they could not balance on the rutted carriageway, the fad passed. It took
nearly 50 years, until a roller-skating boom created a new public with a better sense
of balance. For more information see:

1839 Another entry in bicycle lore: Kirkpatric Mcmillan, a Scottish blacksmith adapted a
treadle-type pedals to a bicycle, is considered a hoax, see the David Herlihy's book.
1863 Bone Shaker or Velocipede: Made of stiff materials, straight
angles and steel wheels make this bike literally a bone shaker
to ride over the cobblestone roads of the day. The
improvement is a front wheel with peddles -- direct drive,
fixed gear, one speed. This machine was known as the
velocipede ("fast foot"), but was popularly known as the bone
shaker, They also became a fad, and indoor riding academies,
similar to roller rinks, could be found in large cities.
1870 Ordinary or Penny Farthing: These are better know as the "high wheelers". It is mor
comfortable to ride than its predecessor, but it requires an acrobat so they popularity
has always been limited. This was the first all metal machine to appeared. (Previous
to this metallurgy was not advanced enough to provide metal which was strong
enough to make small, light parts out of.) The pedals were still
attached directly to the front wheel with no freewheeling
mechanism. Solid rubber tires and the long spokes of the large
front wheel provided a much smoother ride than its
predecessor. The front wheels became larger and larger as
makers realized that the larger the wheel, the farther you could
travel with one rotation of the pedals. You would purchase a
wheel as large as your leg length would allow. These bicycles
enjoyed a great popularity among young men of means (they
cost an average worker six month's pay), with the hey-day being the decade of the
1880's. Because the rider sat so high above the center of gravity, if the front wheel
was stopped by a stone or rut in the road, or the sudden emergence of a dog, the
entire apparatus rotated forward on its front axle, and the rider, with his legs trapped
under the handlebars, was dropped unceremoniously on his head. Here the term
"taking a header" came into being. This machine was the first one to be called a
bicycle ("two wheel").
1872 Friedrich Fischer (German) first mass-produces steel ball bearings, patented by Jule
Suriray in 1869.
1876 Browett and Harrison (English) patent an early caliper brake.
1878 Scott and Phillott (English) patent the first practicable epicyclic change-speed gear
fitted into the hub of a front-driving bicycle.
1878 The first American manufacturer of cycles begun with the Columbia Bicycle at the
Weed Sewing Machine Company factory in Hartford, Ct. The first regular trade
catalogue was twenty pages long. The first bicycles were the 60" High Wheelers and
sold for $125.00 when sewing machines sold for $13.00.
1879 Henry J. Lawson (English) patents a rear wheel, chain-driven safety bicycle, the
Bicyclette (his earlier models were lever driven).
1880 Thomas Humber (English) adapts the block chain for use with his range of bicycles.
1880'sWhile the men were risking their necks on the high wheels, ladies,
confined to their long skirts and corsets, could take a spin around
the park on an adult tricycle. These machines also afforded more
dignity to gentlemen such as doctors and clergymen. Many
mechanical innovations now associated with the automobile were
originally invented for tricycles. Rack and pinion steering, the
differential, and band brakes, to name a few!
1880 Bicycle Activism: Good roads society organized by bicyclist and lobbied for good
roads -- paving the way for motor vehicles!
1884 Thomas Stevens struck out across the country, carrying socks, a spare shirt and a
slicker that doubled as tent and bedroll. Leaving San Francisco at 8 o'clock on April
22, 1884, he traveled eastward, reaching Boston after 3700 wagon trail miles, to
complete the first transcontinental bicycle ride on August 4, 1884. After a pause, he
continued east, circumnavigating earth, and returning to San Francisco on Dec 24,
1886. See Around the World by Bicycle, 2000 reenactment of 1884 ride, and 2006
reenactment of 1885 ride.
1885 Bicycle Playing Cards are introduced and become the most recognizable
brands of playing cards sold in the United States. They are currently
manufactured by the United States Playing Card Company.
1888 Pneumatic tire: First applied to the bicycle by Scottish born veterinarian, working in
Ireland, who was trying to give his sickly young son a more comfortable ride on his
tricycle. This inventive young doctor's name was John Boyd Dunlop. Now that
comfort and safety could be had in the same package, and that package was getting
cheaper as manufacturing methods improved, everyone clamored to ride the bicycle
1890 Safety Bike: As the name implies the safety bike is safer than the
ordinary. The further improvement of metallurgy sparked the
next innovation, or rather return to previous design. With metal
that was now strong enough to make a fine chain and sprocket
small and light enough for a human being to power, the next
design was a return to the original configuration of two same-
size wheels, only now, instead of just one wheel circumference
for every pedal turn, you could, through the gear ratios, have a
speed the same as the huge high-wheel. Initially, the bicycles
still had the hard rubber tires, and in the absence of the long, shock-absorbing
spokes, the ride they provided was much more uncomfortable than any of the high-
wheel designs. Many of these bicycles of 100 years ago had front and/or rear
suspensions. These designs competed with each other, your choice being the high-
wheel's comfort or the safety's safety, but the next innovation tolled the death of the
high-wheel design -- pneumatic tires. This is basically the same design as standard
contemporary bikes. The safety bike allowed large numbers of people to take up
cycling. Bikes were relatively expensive so use was somewhat restrict to the elite.
1890 Mass Production: The bicycle helped make the Gay Nineties what they were. It was
practical investment for the working man as transportation, and gave him a much
greater flexibility for leisure. Women would also start riding bicycles in much large
1894 Change In Social Order: Betty Bloomer's bloomers become very
popular. Ladies, heretofore consigned to riding the heavy adult size
tricycles that were only practical for taking a turn around the park,
now could ride a much more versatile machine and still keep their
legs covered with long skirts. The bicycle craze killed the bustle and
the corset, instituted "common-sense dressing" for women and
increased their mobility considerably. American Music and women
bicyclists. Women and bicycles.
1894 Bamboo bikes are manufactured.
1894 The bicycle messenger business started in California when a
railway strike halted mail delivery for the Bay Area. An
ingenious bicycle shop owner in Fresno came up with the
idea to deliver it by bicycle. He set up a relay between
Fresno and San Francisco, with 6 riders covering about 30
miles each. The last rider would cover 60 miles.
1894- Annie Kopchovsky (nee Cohan) (a.k.a. Annie Londonderry) was a Latvian Jewish
95 immigrant to Boston, who traveled around the world. She started in Boston in June
1894 on her Sterling bike and finishing her ride in Chicago in Sept 1895. She was
probably the first woman to take a bicycle on a world trip. Reports suggest that she
traveled mainly on ships and trains -- riding her bicycles mostly to and from the mai
ports. She was sponsored by The Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Co.
1895 Ignatz Schwinn and Adolph Arnold formed Arnold, Schwinn & Company to produc
bikes. Albert Pope purchased 75 small bicycle manufacturers to form the American
Bicycle Company.
1896 "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate
women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman
ride by on a wheel. It gives woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance." Susan B
1897 An African-America army corps road 2000 miles from Montana to St. Louis - an
amazing story. The Stuhr Museum made a video, "The Bicycle Corps: America's
Black Army on Wheels" (2000).
1899 Major Taylor was the American cycling sprint champion, and he topped all Europea
1900 champions as well. Taylor was one of the first black athletes to become a world
champion in any sport. (Major Taylor is celebrated in number of books.) See also:
The Major Taylor Association, The Major Taylor Society and The Major Taylor
1899- Bicycles first used in conflict in the Second Anglo-Boer War in South
1901 Africa. Military Bicycles: A Short History
1903 Internal hub gears invented by Sturmey Archer. By 1930 these were used on bikes
manufactured around the world. There dominance lasted until the 1950s the
parallelogram derailleur was introduced. See also Sturmey Archer Bicycle Hubs.
1920 Kids Bikes: The focus of planning and development of the transportation
infrastructure was the private automobiles. Bicycles use declined and the bicycle wa
considered primarily as children's toys. Kids bikes were introduced just after the Fir
World War by several manufacturers, such as Mead, Sears Roebuck, and
Montgomery Ward, to revitalize the bike industry (Schwinn made its big splash
slightly later), these designs, now called "classic", featured automobile and
motorcycle elements to appeal to kids who, presumably, would rather have a motor.
If ever a bike needed a motor, this was it. These bikes evolved into the most
glamorous, fabulous, ostentatious, heavy designs ever. It is unbelievable today that
14-year-old kids could do the tricks that we did on these 65 pound machines! They
were built into the middle 50s, by which time they had taken on design elements of
jet aircraft and even rockets. By the 60s, they were becoming leaner and simpler.
1930 Tullio Campagnolo patents the quick release hub.
1930'sSchwinn introduced the fat tire, spring fork, streamline Excelsior, designed to take
the abuse of teenage boys, which was the proto-type mountain bike. The Schwinn
Excelsior frames became the model for the early mountain bikes almost fifty years
1934 Recumbents banned from racing. This had the effect of putting the recumbent bicyc
design in the closet for fifty years, until it was re-discovered, primarily by MIT
professor David Gordon Wilson and his students.
1938 Simplex introduced their cable shifted derailleur.
Historic European footage of unusual bikes from the late 1930s and early 1940s.
1940 Women bicyclists in the French Resistance. by Rebecca G. Halbreich, published in
Ex Post Facto, San Francisco State University, CA., 1994
1950s Tullio Campagnolo introduced cable-operated, parallelogram
derailleur. Campagnolo. For two decades Campagnolo equipment
dominated true racing bikes. Eventually, he acquires 135 patents.

1958 Women ride in the first-ever World Championships on the road and track. Balina
Ermolaeva becomes the first women's World Sprint Champion; Elsy Jacobs takes th
road race.
1962 Renaissance: President's Council of Physical Fitness. Renewed interest in bicycle fo
recreation and fitness. This was the seed of a new major bicycle boom that
accelerated through the 60's. The "English 3-speed" was the fancy consumer model
of the time. Before the end of the decade it was the 10-speed derailleur "racing bike
which dominated the American market (the derailleur had been invented before the
turn of the century and had been in more-or-less common use in Europe since).
1969 Audrey McElmury is the first American to wins the first World Road Cycling
Championship, in Brno, Czechoslovakia, opening the door for American women to
compete regularly in World Road cycling competition.
Earth Day: Increased awareness of westerns civilization's level of consumption of
natural resources, air pollution, and destruction of the natural environment. This
generated a new spurt in the growth of bicycle sales and bicycling, especially around
college campuses.

1973 Oil embargo: Fuel shortages and shifts in relative price of transportation options
created an environment which encouraged bicycle commuting. Many of the new
recruits to bicycling stuck to it after the end of the embargo and became enthusiasts.
There was also reinvigorated interest in the engineering of bicycles, including
renewed interest recumbents and fairings.
1976 Bikecentennial organized thousands of Americans to ride coast-to-coast to
celebration the United States' bicentennial. The project raised the profile of bicycle
touring in North America and continues to this day as the Adventure Cycling
1977 The prototype of the mountain bikes were first developed in Marin Co, California,
north of San Francisco. Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, Gary Fisher, and Craig Mitchell were
the earliest designers, builders and promoters.
1978 A new round of steep oil prices increases further encouraged bicycling. More bikes
than car were being sold in the USA. Triple chain-ring cranks had become widely
available, adding to the range of situation that bicycle were practical for.
1980'sRenewed interests in health and fitness, by the middle and upper class perpetuated
the acceptance and growth of commuting, recreational and touring bicycling.
1980'sBike messengers develop should backs to carry large envelopes flat. The style
migrates into general use as an alternative to back packs, ruck sacks and purses.
1980'sAerobic exercisers take the padding out of bike shorts and use them in exercise
class. The style migrates into general use -- some wearers haven't exercised in
1984 Tour de France Feminine run for the first time (winner: Marianne Martin.)
1984 Women's road race included in the Olympics for the first time (winner: Connie
Carpenter.) Successes by American racing cyclist in the 1984 Olympics drew
attention and added prestige to cycling. The ranks of racing cyclists grew
1984 Cogs began to be added to the rear gear cluster the number of speeds increase from
15 to 18, 21 and 24.
1984 Three-time national XC champion Jacquie Phelan founds the Women's Mountain
Bike and Tea Society; the first formal outreach organization for
women. WOMBATS is dedicated to introducing women to mountain biking in a
fun, non-competitive environment.
1986 Department of the Interior and Nielson surveys show that bicycling is the third most
popular participatory sport after swimming and general exercise.
1990 Shimano (Japanese) introduces integrated brake/gear levers.
1994 Sachs (SRAM) introduces PowerDisc, the first mass-produced hydraulic disc brake
1996 Mountain Bike compete at the Olympic Games for the first time in Atlanta, GA
2000 Rohloff Speedhub 14 speed internal hub gearing system, with no overlapping ratios
and a gear range as wide as a 27-speed derailleur system.
2002 Campagnolo introduces 10 cog rear cluster, allowing 30 speed bicycles.

Infographic 50 Years of Bicycle Design

Infographic and narrative: 58 Milestones from Bicycle History

Infographic: Evolution of the Bicycle

National Bicycle History Archive of America

The rising interest in bicycle history has brought about an increasing demand for old
bicycle information. As enthusiasts and collectors become more sophisticated, the quality
of information becomes more important. Unfortunately far too little accurate information
exists, despite a growing number of collectors, vendors, books, publications, etc.
Furthermore, it is a hit-and-miss proposition when seeking personalized answers to specifi
needs and questions.

Normal histories of most bicycle companies are non-existent or poorly documented.

Information regarding specific years, precise details, and clear explanations of specific
models is either non-existent or obscure at best. Nearly every bicycle book ever published
completely deletes or glosses over the history of American-made bicycles of the period of
1920 to 1965. The few books which have attempted to address this era have been riddled
with inaccuracies and/or missing information. Thus, the National Bicycle History Archive
of America (NBHAA) has been organized to provide accurate and detailed information.

What is NBHAA?
It is an archive of historical materials related to bicycles. Materials of NBHAA have been
around informally since the 1970s. However since 1993, The Archive has been actively in
the process of formally organizing both itself and the history of bicycles. A computerized
database is being compiled and an index will soon be available to interested parties,
organizations, schools and libraries via the Internet at www.nbhaa.com.

NBHAA focuses on the history of American bicycles and the American bicycle industry.
This interest also includes history of bicycle dealers, wholesaler/distributors, industry
personalities, etc. Of course the bicycles themselves are a central focus of The Archive.

What does the NBHAA Contain?

NBHAA is a library of over 60,000 original catalogues, photos, books, documents related
to bicycles (mainly domestic, but including much foreign). NBHAA also contains over 30
old original bicycle films such as Six Day Bike Rider and the 1930s safety film, On Two
Wheels. The time range of the serious historical data starts in the 1860s and stretches to th
1970s. Additional pieces lead up to the present.

Examples of some original printed matter are bound volumes of League of American
Wheelmen (L.A.W.) bulletins from the late l800s to the 1930s; CTC Gazettes from 1800s
to the 1930s; mint, autographed turn-of-century books from Thomas Stevens, Major
Taylor, Karl Kron and others; one of the first known English language bicycle books (from
1869); a nearly complete run of Columbia bicycle catalogues from 1877 through 1990;
industry trade publications such as American Bicyclist, Bicycle World, Bicycle Journal, -
and much more. Photos range from tin types to 8xl0 glossies to color transparencies.

Archives of several bicycle (and bicycle-related) companies including Cleveland Welding

Company, Shelby, Delta Electric, TroxeI, Colson, Whizzer Motor Bike, Bowden (Bomard
H.P. Snyder, D.P. Harris, Sears Roebuck, Spiegel, Montgomery Ward, Western Auto,
Murray-Ohio, Monark-Silver King, Mead Cycle, Manton & Smith and many others have
been largely saved and categorized. These archives include original catalogues, photos,
factory letters, dealer books, original advertisements and related data.

Of special interest is the historical area of Classic Bicycles (1920 through 1965). These
were the deluxe (usually American) bicycles with streamlined styling, fat tires, built-in
gadgets such as lights, horns and speedometers. These bicycles were particularly well
known to the baby-boomer generation.

NBHAA is still seeking to acquire photos, movies and historical catalogues and printed

How to Contact NBHAA?

Write, call or E-mail. Be sure to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for replies.
Due to the volume of inquiries, we cannot provide unlimited identifications without a
minimum fee. Also be sure to enclose photographs of any bike or part in question.

Address: NBHAA, PO Box 787, Davis, CA 95617

Tel: 714-335-9072. Email: OldBicycle(at)aol.com

History of Bicycles and Bicycling

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