Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Wheelmen’

Detroit Wheelmen: Fundraising to build a Clubhouse

Thursday, December 27th, 2012
Detroit Wheelmen Clubhouse at 53 E. Adams

Detroit Wheelmen Clubhouse at 53 E. Adams

The Detroit Bicycle Club was the city’s first in 1879. These were the day’s of highwheeler bicycles that appealed to young adventurous men but few others.

In fact L.J. Bates, the club’s first president wrote in that tricycles would eventually become more popular since they attracted a wider audience. A Free Press editorial from 1883 made the same prediction with this verbose attack on highwheelers.

Its demands upon the skill in balancing are too great to tempt many persons; those who indulge in it present a grotesque appearance in a garb which makes them look like convicts escaped from the penitentiary and which few care to display for the benefit or amusement of their fellowmen; while the dangers, or the necessity of guarding against danger, deprive the rider of much pleasure from scenery and wayside objects of interest.

However, tricycles never took over the market and interest in highwheelers faded. Detroit’s bicycle clubs faded as well.

The Comeback

But everything changed when the safety bicycle was introduced, a design not unlike today’s bicycles.

The safety bicycle not only kicked off Detroit’s golden age of bicycling, it helped revitalize the bicycle club scene. In 1890, the older clubs reorganized as the Detroit Wheelmen. In 1891, Detroit hosted the national convention for the League of American Wheelmen.

And with more women riding and the Detroit Wheelmen being for men only, the women-only Unique Cycling Club was formed 1893.

How close were the Detroit Wheelmen and Unique Cycling Club? In 1893 J. H. Gould was president of the former, while Mrs. J. H. Gould was president of the latter. Both clubs shared clubhouses, too.

The Clubhouse

Speaking of clubhouses, the growing interest in Detroit cycling meant a larger one was required. In order to build it they needed to raise funds — and they came up with a interesting idea. Since the circuses at the time didn’t tour during the winter, they could bring them to Detroit for a huge indoor show from Christmas to New Years.

According to the Free Press, “the Detroit Wheelmen have banished all thought of their favorite steeds for the time being… and [their] one-ring amateur circus grew into ‘the greatest show on earth,’ with three rings, clowns at all angles of the enclosure and elephants, trained lions and other wild beasts until you can’t rest.”

The circus was a “unqualified success” for the Detroit Wheelmen, raising over $2,000 in 1894 and $1,700 in 1895. It seemed they held their final circus in 1896 after they had begun construction on their new clubhouse.

The Unique Cycling Club played a role as well. They were in charge of the candy, popcorn, and flower booths. It appears they also oversaw the games of chance.

The Free Press published an article on December 26th, 1896 that describes this history and the Detroit cycling culture:

What a change has come over the Detroit Wheelmen in six short years! The old Detroit club disappeared from view, the Star club followed and for two or three years there was no bicycling organization in the city. Then several leaders organized the Detroit Wheelmen and for a long period the members met in modest quarters on Miami Avenue [later renamed Broadway.] The safety came into the field and proved such a success that the membership swelled and the club was warranted in securing splendid quarters on Washington avenue. Three years there showed an increase which necessitated more room and the old Strassburg Academy on Randolph street near Madison avenue was leased. Since moving there the organization has grown right along, until now there is paying membership and the future promises nothing but success for the organization. For a year the spirits who guide the destiny of the Wheelmen have thought of a club house of their own and after much hard work an arrangement was made whereby the club came into possession of a desirable piece of property on Adams avenue near Witherell street. On this site will be erected a $25,000 club house, work to commence next month if the weather is at all mild and by next summer the Detroit Wheelmen will own and occupy the most modern club house of any cycling organization in the west.

As it turned out, they spent $40,000 on the club house. That’s $1.1 million in 2012 dollars.

One interesting piece of trivia: They broke ground on the clubhouse on the same day Charles Brady King drove the first car in Detroit.

Shrine Circus

There’s one more interesting piece of this story.

Having seen the success of the Wheelmen’s circus, the Detroit Shriners decided to also raise funds with an indoor circus. They relied on Dr. Russell Pearce who organized the Detroit Wheelmen’s circuses. In 1906, they held the first ever Shrine Circus in Detroit which has grown across the U.S. since then.

1903: Detroit Tigers 5, Detroit Wheelmen 3

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

The Detroit Wheelmen was a premiere bicycle club during its era from the start of bicycling history through to the early 1920s. It was the top club in Detroit and in Michigan. Its members helped shape the city by pioneering America’s road and automobile industries.

It was much more than a group of cyclists. It was a major social club, which was reflected in their final clubhouse on Adams, where Comerica Park is today.

But they did more than ride bicycles. They hosted bike races on the national circuit. They held major boxing matches. Their annual circus became the forerunner to the Shrine Circus.

And they played semi-professional baseball.

In 1903, A. S. Burkhardt managed the Wheelmen’s baseball team and arranged an exhibition baseball game against the Detroit Tigers.

It was October 2nd, 1903 and the Tiger’s last game for the year. They’d finished the year in fifth place with 65 wins and 71 losses. With the players season over, this game was an opportunity to send them off with a little extra money.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Wheelmen’s team had been “greatly strengthened for this game and [hoped] to give the American leaguers an argument.”

Pitching for the Tigers was their ace George Mullin, who had a 19 and 16 record, a 2.25 ERA, and 170 strikeouts. Mullin still holds records with the Tigers for most innings pitched during a season and all-time. He has the second most wins in Tiger’s history. He also helped pitch the Tigers to three Pennants (1907-1909) along side teammates Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford.

The Free Press added that having Mullin on the mound, made “the outlook for any great acquisition of cycling tallies very dubious.”

Play Ball

The game was played at Bennett Park, at the corner of Trumbull and Michigan. (In 1912 the Park eventually became Navin Field then Briggs Stadium and Tiger Stadium.)

The threatening weather and muddy conditions kept many spectators away and the Tigers won, 5 to 3.

Wheelmen pitcher Archie Neuschafer “pitched well” but his team couldn’t hit Mullin’s pitches when it counted. They left 15 men on base.

The Free Press also included this colorful write up:

The Dutchman pulled off a couple of shoe top catches that won him much applause. Donovan played Sunny Jim baseball, and helped to fill up the sacks in the ninth, to make the game interesting. Mullin, however, fanned Kustus, with a single good to tie and a double good to win. The sacks were filled in the eighth, also, but Carr pulled down a foul fly from Mogg.

“Sacks” is a reference to the bases, while Sunny Jim is a character from Force cereal advertisements. The Dutchman was apparently “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was the top Tigers pitcher behind Mullin. He had four errors playing shortstop.


Dodge brothers: cyclists, machinists, crime fighters

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

John Dodge's bicycle from 1898

Below is an exciting story about the Dodge Brothers which doesn’ t have much to do with cycling — but it’s an exciting story!

To begin, we’ve already mentioned that John and Horace Dodge had a major role in Detroit’s rich cycling history.

  • They both volunteered as judge and timer at various Detroit Wheelmen bike races at Belle Isle and at the track. (The Detroit Wheelmen was the city’s premier cycling club during this era.)
  • “Mr. Dodge” was stoker in a 2-mile tandem race on the Detroit banked track in 1897.
  • They received a bicycle bearing patent (No. 567,851) in 1896 which was part of a unique design for hubs and bottom brackets.
  • They formed the Detroit Bicycle Improvement Company in March of 1897 with $40,000 in capital.
  • They manufactured the Evans and Dodge bicycles in Windsor in partnership with Canadian Fred Evans. They sold their interest in the company in 1900 and opened a machine shop in Detroit’s Boydell Building on Beaubien near Greektown (now home to Nikki’s Club and Pizzeria.)

After opening the machine shop, they began making automobile engines and components for Olds, and a few years later for Henry Ford.

So they stopped biking then, right?

Apparently not.

In 1905, John Dodge ran for a director position on the Detroit Wheelmen board. We’re not sure yet whether he was elected, but we do know that his brother Horace was elected the club’s Second Vice-President the following year.

And it seems they were still involved with Detroit’s premier cycling club in 1908 when this story begins.

Auto Thieves come to Grief

That was the title of a Detroit Free Press article published in September of 1908. John Dodge, then a Water Commissioner for the city of Detroit, parked his car in front of the Detroit Wheelmen’s clubhouse on Adams, just a block east of today’s Cheli’s Chili.

It was a Saturday night and 17-year old George Duplus and a couple friends decided to steal a car, cruise Jefferson, and pick up girls. John Dodge’s car was large enough to carry them and their anticipated passengers, so they stole it. However, after an evening of cruising Jefferson, they never got more than waves from the ladies.

In the meantime, realizing his car was stolen, John called his brother Horace. They decided to hunt for it themselves. This was somewhat realistic since they’re weren’t all that many cars in Detroit at the time.

According to the Free Press, they found the car shortly after 1 AM on Mt. Elliot just north of East Grand Boulevard.

The Dodge brothers followed the machine until they were certain that it was the stolen one and then Commissioner [John] Dodge fired a shot at the rubber-tired wheel. Instantly, the auto containing the three lads came to a standstill. One of the young men was thrown violently over the dash board and landed on his face in the street, while this two companions jumped out of the machine and ran away.

Patrolman [Otto] Taube heard the shot and hurrying to the scene, found Duplus still lying unconscious on the street. The policeman and the Dodge brothers worked over Duplus for 20 minutes before he recovered consciousness.

Is “worked over” to be taken literally or as a euphemism? Perhaps the latter according to this source:

There are numerous anecdotes illustrating [John Dodge’s] volatility. He once, for example, was reported to have threatened a Detroit saloon owner with a pistol, forced him to dance on the top of his bar and then applauded his dancing skills by smashing dozens of glasses against the walls of the saloon. A sober John Dodge returned the next day to apologize and pay for the damages.

Duplus later confessed to the story, adding:

“I was driving the machine and turned north on Mt. Elliot avenue. A minute later someone fired a shot and I reversed the power and the machine came to a sudden stop. That is the last that I knew until I revived on the street and the policeman was standing over me.”

Duplus, who worked at Packard, was charged with grand larceny. He had been arrested on a similar charge .

More Dodge Trivia

From a Chrysler paper, The Dodge Brothers: “At age 13, with the help of brother John, [Horace] built a working high-wheel bicycle from scrap materials.” Impressive.

John Dodge not only served on Detroit’s Water Commission Board (1905 through 1910), he also served on the Detroit Street Railway Commission (1913 through 1920.) He helped settle a transit strike in 1914 and led a campaign advocating for public ownership of the streetcar system.

The Dodge Brothers were multi-modal supporters.

Detroit’s Edward Hines: cyclist and road doctor

Friday, November 4th, 2011

One of Detroit’s most famous cycling and Good Roads advocate received a posthumous award from Amsterdam: The Paul Mijksenaar Design for Function Award 2011.

White lines down the middle of the road: What could be more obvious? And yet they were once – in 1911, to be exact – a brilliant new idea. In Michigan, Edward N. Hines, a member of the Wayne County Road Commission, saw a leaky milk wagon leaving a liquid trail on a dusty roadway. It made him think of painting white lines down the centre of the road to create lanes that would clearly separate traffic moving in opposite directions.

UPDATE 11/23/2021: Is the milk story true? We doubt it. It’s more likely that story came from the safety-line strip-marker device. We will continue to track this down.

The Detroit News and Free Press also acknowledged his award, but left out many of his other accomplishments which this 1914 article in Motor Age magazine sums up well.

Like scores of other notables whose names you will find in the “Who’s Who” of motordom, Edward Hines unknowingly rode out on a bicycle to meet Fame. This was two score and 4 years ago when he was an enthusiastic cyclist and a three-ply executive, serving simultaneously as vice-president of the League of American Wheelmen, chief consul of the Michigan division of the L. A. W. and president of the Detroit Wheelmen. He pedaled through the mud and mire and hurdled the bumps of the Wayne county highways until his leg muscles went on a strike and his vertebrae demanded shock absorbers. Sore and exhausted, he decided to turn reformer and take the initiative in an attempt to improve the highways radiating from Detroit.

In 1890 he formed a good roads organization which petitioned the state legislature to amend the constitution, make the counties instead of the townships the units for the building and maintenance of the highways and give the counties the privilege of adopting the county system. Three years of missionary work and lobbying elapsed before such a measure was passed. In the meantime, Hines superintended the construction of 3-foot wide bicycle cinder paths built with money raised through popular subscription by the Detroit Journal. He also coaxed through the legislature a bill protecting these paths from the roving kine and devastating wagons of the Michigan farmers.

County System Gradually Adopted

The county road law was passed in 1893. Its adoption by the various counties was certain and gradual. At the present time fifty-eight of the eighty-three counties of Michigan have seen the benefits to be derived from building their roads under skilled and intelligent supervision and have condemned former township road supervisors to the oubliette.

When Wayne county adopted the county system of road supervision 8 years ago, Hines was made chairman of the highway commission. Henry Ford, whom Hines knew as an ambitious young man and whose famous 999 he had timed in its first trial on the ice of Lake St. Clair, was a member of the county board and an ally of the road doctor of Detroit in his fight for the use of concrete in highway construction.

When first organized, the commission followed the accepted practices and started in to build bituminous macadam roads, but after a year’s experience in noting the wear upon them, foreseeing a constantly increasing maintenance charge and weeping as flotillas of motor cars scattered the so-called good roads into particles, it decided that a change was not only desirable, but imperative, and set out to find a material that was more permanent and durable and no more costly than macadam.

Edward Hines found such a material. It was concrete.

Hines thought roads were more than just concrete. He was an adamant supporter of road beautification efforts, which is why Hines Drive in Wayne County is named after him.

“I may want too much, I may be too visionary,” he said, “but I am going to have a road beautiful even if I have to spend my own money to satisfy such a desire.”

So don’t be surprised if in the future while touring in the vicinity of Detroit you suddenly run head-on into a mass of trailing arbutus, daffodils, chrysanthemums, lilies of the valley, orchids and forget-me-nots.

When Edward Hines wants something, he gets it.

If Hines were around today, he would probably “get” Complete Streets and Transportation Enhancements as well.

Congratulations on your award, Mr. Hines.

1896: Detroit Wheelmen gathered at their new club house

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

This article was originally published on page 6 0f the Detroit Free Press , March 8, 1896. Whatever happened to that little tin box they put in the clubhouse cornerstone? More information and photos of the Wheelman’s clubhouse:

Corner Stone is Laid: The Detroit Wheelmen gathered at their new home.

With a club yell and cheer, the little tin box containing records pertinent to the occasion was placed in the corner stone of the Detroit Wheelmen’s club house yesterday afternoon, and the band ———— [sic]. It was the red-letter occasion in the history of the organization, and now the members are feeling happy because they know they will soon have a home.

The members of the club formed at the house on Randolph street and marched to Monroe Avenue, thence to Woodward and north to Adams avenue, where the building is being erected. They were headed by the Parke, Davis & Co. band, and all wore the yellow and black of the organization. J. H. Gould, chairman of the building committee told the assembled hundreds of the hard work in marking a start, and of the progress of the fund since it was announced that there would surely be a club house. President Ed N. Hines recited the history of the club, which dates back to 1879 when the Detroit Bicycle Club was formed. Following this came the Star Club and the Ramblers and in 1890 the Detroit Wheelmen organize on Clifford street, moving to Miami Avenue [later renamed Broadway], thence into more commodious quarters on Washington avenue. From there the club made another move into the old dancing academy on Randolph street, and the next one will be into the handsome home of its own on Adams avenue, just east of the [Grand Circus] park.

In the box were the files of the Phonograph, the club’s paper, the constitution and list of members of both the Detroit Wheelmen and Unique Cycle Club, club colors and buttons and copies of the daily papers.

Behind the group of members at the front of the building was a sign in yellow and black, “D.W. 1879-1896.” After a photograph had been taken the members marched back to the club.

The Detroit Wheelmen promises to be one of the most popular clubs in Detroit and its membership will be very large by the time the club house is ready for occupancy on August 1. The spirit of good fellowship has brought many in and the acquirement of property will help more than anything else. The building committee, consisting of J. H. Gould, C. W. Lloyd, E. N. Hines, Theo. Osius, E. S. Anderson, L. Vineberg, and Harry E. Dennis, has worked long and hard for the house and the handsome structure will be a reward for the labor spent. The officers of the club at present are as follows: