Posts Tagged ‘History’

Bicycle history in the Henry Ford Collection

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

The Henry Ford has some key bicycle history. Perhaps the most well-known is the Wright Bicycle shop that Henry Ford worked with Orville Wright and relocated to Greenfield Village in 1937.

The museum also owns a considerable amount of other bicycle history, which they are digitizing. There are over 8,000 items in the collection now and 197 match the keyword “bicycle.”

Most of the bicycle items appear to be from other parts of the county. Still there are a few local favorites.

We especially love this “tweed ride” photo of Edison Illuminating Company employees in 1895.

In the 1890s, the safety bicycle became a way for many workers to travel to and from their jobs. This group of employees from the Edison Illuminating Company poses with their bikes for a photograph taken about 1895. The photographer was a fellow employee at the company and also owned a bicycle, Henry Ford.

Mr. Ford was better at building cars than framing his photograph.

Also among our favorites are these photos of Henry Ford with his bicycle in 1893 and famous Detroit bicycle racer Tommy Cooper in 1890-1891.

They also have the only known version of the ten-person Oriten bicycle by Orient. They also have a photo of it from 1899 on a street in Detroit .

Detroit biking articles all over the local media

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

A couple weeks ago we wrote about seven different biking articles that ran in the Detroit media.

Well here’s another nine!

Cycling for Health

Our friend and longtime Detroit cyclist Cassandra Spratling wrote this article in the Detroit Free Press. The Daley’s adoption of biking as transportation — and how they lost 210 pounds between them — is quite a story.

When Don and Darla Daley dine at restaurants near their Royal Oak home, they no longer drive their car.

It’s the same with quick trips to the store or nearby Royal Oak Farmers Market. They hop on the bicycles they bought two years ago — their favorite form of recreation and exercise.

“I never thought I’d love it as much as I do,” Darla Daley says. “Other bikers wave at you. It’s just fun.”

There are other health success stories included here as well.

Cycling for Green Jobs

The Free Press also ran this story on Vanita Mistry and her Detroit Greencycle company that provides curbside recycling.

Four days a week before heading out to her day job, Mistry straps an 8-foot trailer to her mountain bike and pedals for several hours through a number of Detroit neighborhoods, including Clark Park, the Eastern Market district and Corktown to pick up recyclables and compost from her regular customers.

She totes twelve 18-gallon bins on her trailer, with a capacity to carry up to 300 pounds. Mistry separates plastic, cardboard, paper, glass and aluminum. She also collects composting material.

“I find that I’m driven more by public service and giving back,” Mistry said. “What motivates me is knowing I’m making a difference in the work I’m doing, and I’ve found that Greencycle is one of many ways I strive to make a difference in my community.”

Next, the Huffington Post continues their series on Detroit biking with an interesting look at the city’s bike messenger history.

CBS Detroit also joined in with this article on Shane O’Keefe’s Hot Spokes food delivery company.

O’Keefe said it’s sometimes a challenge to balance several meals inside his thermal bike box and his hands, but he does it. O’Keefe said they’ll deliver in any weather — even deep snow.

The last time they could not make a delivery was more than two winters ago during a major snow storm.

O’Keefe said he does not own a car and he’s glad he doesn’t have to pay for gas while trying to run a delivery business.

Critical Mass

Again, the Huffington Post published this article, Detroit Critical Mass Helps Area Cyclists Find Common Ground On City Streets. It accurately paints a mixed view on how successful this ride is. Interestingly, the critics aren’t motorists, but other Detroit cyclists. We’ve heard from critics of this popular ride as well: it’s too fast, too long, too organized, and it caters too much to suburban cyclists who drive to the city for the ride.

Ironically enough, the Detroit Critical Mass ride was moved to this location in part because of its free car parking. The bike lanes being installed this year eliminate much of that free parking. Will Critical Mass move again because of the bike lanes?

A View from Below

The Lakewood Observer from the Cleveland-area published, The Detroit Comparison: Sam Willsey’s Recent Cycling Experience. It’s an interesting article that gives the impression that Detroit is ahead of Cleveland in terms of adding bike lanes and trails. We’re not sure how both cities compare, but it seems we have much lower traffic on our streets.

The article does get a couple things wrong. We do have a bike advocacy group — the Detroit Greenways Coalition. And, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance is not proposing or significantly funding these projects. Non-profits and the City are the ones proposing, while funding comes from a variety of state, local, and philanthropic sources.

A Bicycle Lending Library

Stories about Fender Bender’s plan for a community-based bike share program were published in both Mode Shift and the Huffington Post.

From Mode Shift:

Like any bike sharing program, The Bicycle Lending Library will rent bikes out from one to four days with the single-day rental being the most “expensive” and adding days will make the rental cheaper. [Sarah] Sidelko says the program is going to be very affordable, but does not have the specific dollar amounts worked out yet.

In addition to renting a bicycle, the Library will also lend out a helmet, a bike light and lock and a map of Detroit, which will have an emphasis on bike lanes and greenways, and will have other prominent destinations peppered in.

Detroit Cycling History

The Huffington Post rounded out their bike series by touching on the city’s rich cycling history. The article is primarily an interview with the Hub’s Jack Van Dyke.

And on a related note, the web site Roads were not Built for Cars ran this story on Henry Ford and his connection to cycling back in the day. The web site’s author Carlton Reid was recently in Detroit. We had the opportunity to give him a bike tour that connected our cycling history. During our ride he asked, “Are we downtown?”. Yes we were. It was midday on a Friday and the streets were ours. There was very little traffic. He was rather impressed and said, “This is the cycling city of the future.”

December 18th, 1868: Detroit’s first bicyclist

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

On Friday, December 18th, 1868 – only 143 years ago today – Detroit’s first bicyclist hit the street.

That is according to this colorful Detroit Free Press article, “The First Detroit Velocipedist,” which was published on the 19th:

Yesterday the first Detroit man that had the temerity to bestride the (not foaming, but very restive and treacherous) velocipede and show his skill (?) in the public street, might have been seen moving slowly along Jefferson avenue, followed by a large crowd of men and boys of all ages, classes and conditions. The bold rider was no other that the irrepressible Ben Fletcher, of the Michigan News Company. Sometimes he got along bravely by himself and seemed likely to run away from the crowd, but the next moment it would take a man on each side of him to keep him steady, while a third person behind pushed the machine along. Now the perverse front wheel would turn crosswise, and besides slopping all headway would make it pretty warm for the rider’s shins. In coming back it would usually lurch the other way, not infrequently seating the rider on the damp sidewalk. A horseman present thought he would as soon ride a “quarter horse”[Note 1] while a large portion of the crowd were of the opinion that the velocipede had by some mistake been oiled with a superior brand of unstamped “tangle foot” or “forty rod.”[Note 2] A gentleman in the crowd fancies he has discovered the way of balancing the concern, which he thinks is to turn the great wheel crosswise as soon as there is any danger of an upset. Ben allows him to put his theory to a practical test. He mounts the vehicle and dashes off at a fine rate; at the first waver of his balance he applies his new discovery; but the inturned handle takes him in the place where Jonah was[Note 3], and presently the velocipede is uppermost. Yesterday the velocipede had to be helped over crosswalks and steadied in rough places; but this state of things will not last a great while, for before long velocipedes will be as plenty as carriages in the streets, and velocipeding will become as popular as driving or skating[Note 4]. The Michigan News Company has the agency for the Hanlons’ Patent Velocipede in this place[Note 5], and there can be no doubt that they will push their business so that in a short time velocipeding will be all the rage.


  1. Quarter horses excel at short sprints and speedy maneuvers. The breed is often used in rodeos.
  2. “Forty rod” is a facetious name for a “cheap and strong” whiskey “so called for its alleged ability to kill at forty rods” or one-eighth mile.
  3. The “place where Jonah was” is a Biblical reference to the stomach.
  4. In 1868, driving means driving horses, not cars. Skating refers to roller skates, which were around at that time.
  5. The Hanlons were an New York acrobatic group that used velocipedes in their show. They modified their bikes and patented the improvements.

More details on the ride

It’s likely that Fletcher’s first ride began outside the offices of the Michigan News Company. They were located on Jefferson, a half-block west of Woodward.

Thirty-three years later, the Detroit Free Press had a follow up interview with Fletcher, who was now a traveling passenger agent for the Grand Trunk railroad.

He said that bike weighed around 100 pounds and was built in France. He eventually sold the bike to Daniel Soper of Newago, before Soper became the secretary of state for Michigan.

Fletcher also recalled the local music publishers selling a composition called the “Velocipede Gallop” and there was a cigar called “The Velocipede.”

This was not the first velocipede in Detroit, according to Fletcher. There was one on display in a specialty exhibit.

In our searches of the Free Press archives, the first velocipedes advertised in Detroit were in December 1851. However, these were for children and likely had three or four wheels.

Velocipede School

A new velocipede school was opened a couple months after Fletcher’s first ride. It was a 12-foot wide track around the outside of an indoors skating rink. Nine laps equaled a mile. The school rented velocipedes by the hour.

We’re not sure how successful this venture was as it did not appear in the 1869 city business directory.

These types of indoor practice areas became popular because it allowed people, especially women, to practice riding with less public embarrassment. It seems Ben Fletcher could have benefited from one.

Also, it wasn’t until 1878 that the first velocipedes were manufactured in Detroit. Velocipedes had become quite popular by then and their riders were starting to organize in order to establish their legal rights within Detroit.

As for Ben Fletcher, he died in early 1902 and is buried at the Forest Lawn cemetery.

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.

1895: Don’ts for women riders

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The below list was originally published by the New York World in 1895.

It’s not known whether the author(s) were male or female, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

For those who get nostalgic for that 1890s golden era of cycling, it’s important to realize it wasn’t golden for everyone. Major Taylor can vouch for that.

Besides, did anyone really think that making a list of 41 “dont’s” would encourage more women to ride?

  • Don’t be a fright.
  • Don’t faint on the road.
  • Don’t wear a man’s cap.
  • Don’t wear tight garters.
  • Don’t forget your toolbag
  • Don’t attempt a “century.”
  • Don’t coast. It is dangerous.
  • Don’t boast of your long rides.
  • Don’t criticize people’s “legs.”
  • Don’t wear loud hued leggings.
  • Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.”
  • Don’t refuse assistance up a hill.
  • Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit.
  • Don’t neglect a “light’s out” cry.
  • Don’t wear jewelry while on a tour.
  • Don’t race. Leave that to the scorchers.
  • Don’t wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
  • Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you.
  • Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume.
  • Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
  • Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars.
  • Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
  • Don’t wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
  • Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?”
  • Don’t use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
  • Don’t go out after dark without a male escort.
  • Don’t go out without a needle, thread and thimble.
  • Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match.”
  • Don’t let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
  • Don’t allow dear little Fido to accompany you
  • Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
  • Don’t discuss bloomers with every man you know.
  • Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
  • Don’t overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor.
  • Don’t ignore the laws of the road because you are a woman.
  • Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels.”
  • Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
  • Don’t cultivate everything that is up to date because yon ride a wheel.
  • Don’t emulate your brother’s attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.
  • Don’t undertake a long ride if you are not confident of performing it easily.
  • Don’t appear to be up on “records” and “record smashing.” That is sporty.

The suggestion to not coast is referring to one taking their feet off the pedals of a fixed gear bicycle on downhills.

Can you really light a match from the seat of your bloomers?