Photos of Late 19th-Century Bicycle Clubs Riding Their Penny-Farthings Around the Bay Area

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
June 5 2014 12:17 PM

Photos of Late 19th-Century Bicycle Clubs Riding Their Penny-Farthings Around the Bay Area

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

The California Historical Society recently posted a batch of cycling-themed images from their collections on Flickr. While some of the ephemera is gorgeous (and don’t miss this studio portrait of “Miss Valentine Conwell, age 3 year and 4 months, the youngest cyclist in the world”), I like these photographs of groups of cyclists on outings best.

While some of these images are undated, almost every cyclist pictured has a high-wheel bicycle, a type of bike with a big leading front wheel and a smaller stabilizing rear wheel. These were commonly used in the late 1870s and the 1880s, before the invention of the so-called “safety” bicycle in the early ‘90s. (This cyclists’ map of California, published in 1896 and bordered by advertisements for cycle-dependent businesses, shows the explosion in popularity that came with that advance.)

Advertisement

Bicycle clubs formed in the late nineteenth century were social organizations, meant to bring together people with interests in the new sport. Historian Evan Friss told the New York Times’ J. David Goodman in 2010 that late 19th-century bike clubs tended to divide themselves by race, class, and ethnicity.

While some clubs did include women (Goodman points to the Cycle Club of Brooklyn, for example), none of the images in this collection show female cyclists in the midst of their California counterparts.

1EarlyCyclists

Courtesy California Historical Society.

“Cyclists after ride from Oakland to Mission San Jose to Sunol Train Home,” June 20, 1886.

2EarlyCyclists

Courtesy California Historical Society.

Undated, with no identifying information. Note the boy in the right, who seems to be photographing the photographer.

3EarlyCyclists

Courtesy California Historical Society.

Undated, with no identifying information. Here, you can see parasols attached to high-wheelers, as well as a tuckered-out cyclist in the left foreground, lounging with his head in his friend’s lap while his friend wields a fan.

4EarlyCyclists

Courtesy California Historical Society.

“San Francisco Bicycle Club on San Leandro Road between San Leandro and Milpitas; H.A. Greene, Captain.” Undated.

5EarlyCyclists

Courtesy California Historical Society.

“Bicyclists in front of Isaac L. Requa residence, Highland Avenue and Hazel Lane, Piedmont, Calif.,” undated, photograph by the firm of Rieman & Pray. Requa, a prominent businessman with interests in railroads and mines, was a pillar of Oakland society.

6EarlyCyclists

Courtesy California Historical Society.

League of American Wheelmen Century Run, June 1, 1890, photograph by George R. Butler. Taken in San Francisco, at 21st and Capp, looking toward Mission.  Some two-wheeled safety bicycles are visible in this portrait. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.