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Bicycle Craze: Topics in Chronicling America

During the late 19th century, the demand and popularity of bicycles led to a frenzy. This guide provides access to material related to the “bicycle craze” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"The New Uncle Sam-- Bicycle Edition." May 16, 1897. New-York Tribune (New York, NY), Image 33. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

The first popular models of the bicycle were high-wheeled, and known to be dangerous because of the frequency of “headers”, or flying over the handlebars. However, with the invention of the “Safety” and several other modifications, the bicycle became safer and more popular. The women’s safety, allowing for women’s dress, helped boost the bicycles popularity even more. By the 1890s, the safety bicycle could be used by everyone, regardless of age or gender, for both transportation and recreation. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

Late 1800s The “Ordinary”, a previously popular model of the bicycle, is beat out by the “Safety”. Because of the position of the rider on the “Ordinary”, it is seen as more dangerous than the low to the ground position of the “Safety”.
1890s The popularity of the Safety, and the women’s version, lead to a bicycle fad that everyone can enjoy.
Late 1890s As bicycles continued to be very popular, more laws and ordinances were put in place to protect the rider and pedestrians.
1900 The U.S. bicycle industry pays $10,000,000 in wages and salaries, buys $17,000,000 worth of materials, and employs 20,000 Americans to manufacture 1,2000,000 bicycles, costing an estimate $100 each.
1908 Demand and price of bicycles falls. The U.S. bicycle industry manufactures 250,000 bicycles this year, costing an estimate $35 each.