Posts Tagged ‘League of American Wheelmen’

Who killed the League of American Wheelmen?

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

Detroit Streetcar and bicyclistIn 1888, the pneumatic bicycle tire was invented which made riding on rough roads much more comfortable. By 1890, the safety bicycle design (what we have today) replaced the more difficult to ride highwheelers. This also opened the door for more women riders.

It was these milestones that ushered in the mass adoption of bicycles. Bicycle production peaked at nearly 2 million in 1897.

Historians call this the golden age of bicycling.

And during this time, the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) was the national bicycle advocacy organization.

They had a Michigan Division which was led by Edward Hines during most of the 1890s. They were highly successful as Hines noted in his membership drive from 1899. They fought for equal access to Detroit roads and against ordinances requiring lights, bells, and bike registration. They got bikes allowed on trains. They got the city to build a bicycle pavilion on Belle Isle. Also, in 1896 the Detroit Wheelmen built a very fine 3-story club house.

Nationwide, there were 102,636 LAW members in 1898.

By 1902, there were 8,692 members. The bicycle craze was over and the LAW closed their doors.

A popular perception is the arrival of the car killed the bicycle’s popularity, but the timeline doesn’t support that.

From 1901 to 1904, Detroit’s Olds Motor Works was the nation’s leading auto manufacturer. They produced 425 cars in 1901 and 2,500 in 1902. The Ford Motor Company didn’t exist until 1903. While many cyclists undoubtedly switched to cars, there weren’t enough (affordable) cars in 1901 to replace all the bicycles.

It seems likely that many bicyclists switched to streetcars — at least in Detroit.

In December of 1900, all of Metro Detroit’s streets car were consolidated into one Detroit Urban Railway (DUR) system. The fare was a flat 5 cents on most lines and 3 cents on the remainder. By 1901, the DUR acquired nearly all of the interurban lines, which provided rapid rail travel to cities outside of Detroit and as far away as Port Huron, Jackson and Toledo.

Below is an excerpt from a May 1901 LAW Bulletin article that notes cyclists switching to streetcars.

Why do we note a decline in wheeling? We think it has its root in the laziness of mankind. Time was when men wanted to get out and see the country and they employed the wheel. They had to work for it but they felt paid for all their labor in what they took in of scenery and fresh air. And now comes the trolley car and takes them out into the open country and they do no labor, get nearly all of it without work and for a nickel. We are such a lazy set that we use the nickel.

But that is not all. There is another point where wheeling hits a man in his lazy longitude. It’s a question of clothes. When a man desires to ride he must change his clothes, and when he has finished he must make another change. The trolley car requires no change of clothing and he takes the trolley. These two appeals to a man’s laziness have been very potent factors in causing riders to give up the wheel.

But all men are not lazy. There are many left who vote the wheel the king of pleasures. There are many who do ride and who will ride as long as they have strength to push a pedal and a keen appreciation of the beauties of nature when we meet her face to face. The trolley car does not put us into communion with nature as the wheel does. It does not go into the by ways the forest roads the out of the way places where we find the richest treasures of scenery. There is an independence on the wheel that we do not have on the trolley and there is an exhilaration that comes to us in no other way.

It seems the same author published an article with a similar tone in the October 1901 Bulletin, which ended with this foretelling sentence:

We are too lazy to work for our fun and we fear the muscular development we were once proud of will give place to flabbiness.

But eventually Detroit’s railway system suffered a similar demise as its ridership shifted to using buses and cars.

However, it should be noted that the futures of bicycling and light rail in Detroit are looking brighter than they have in generations. And this time, they can enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship, not unlike what the SMART (and forthcoming DDOT) bus bike racks provide.

Reference: LAW Cycling Handbook from 1945

Kellogg’s surprising connection with cycling

Monday, October 5th, 2009

sanitas-nut-adW.K. Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan is famous for breakfast cereal. Everyone knows that.

What’s less known is his connection to cycling.

W.K. Kellogg was a member of the League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.). Although not knowing when he joined, his membership number is very low (1,092) making him one of the first Michigan cyclists to sign up.

In 1897, Battle Creek had the third most L.A.W. memberships behind Detroit and Grand Rapids (but just one more than Escanaba!)

When the L.A.W. began life memberships in 1901, W.K. Kellogg paid the $10 fee. He was just the seventh Michigan cyclist to do so. (Nationwide, Detroiters Horatio “Good Roads” Earle bought the first life membership while Edward Hines had the sixth.)

With his brother, W.K. Kellogg started the Sanitas Nut Food Company in the late 1890s. Both were vegetarians who experimented with nut butter as a protein substitute. They even received a patent for this early predecessor of modern peanut butter.

Their company advertisement on the right was printed in a 1901 League of American Wheelmen Bulletin. This was an early example of a healthy, sports-oriented protein product.

But in 1906, W.K. Kellogg parted ways with his brother and the nut business to concentrate on breakfast cereals.

From the Kellogg Foundation web site:

W.K. went on to become one of the world’s wealthiest men. But with his puritanical conscience, he felt guilty living the lavish life of a millionaire. Instead, W.K. felt obligated to use his fortune for the benefit of humankind: “If I am successful in getting out of debt, and become prosperous,” he wrote in 1909, “I expect to make good use of any wealth that may come to me.”

In 1930, W.K. Kellogg made good on that promise when he established the Kellogg Foundation. During his lifetime, he donated most of his fortune ($66 million) to create the Foundation’s endowment.

But that’s not the end of the Kellogg/bicycling connection. The Kellogg Foundation continues to support bicycle-related efforts throughout the U.S.

For example, they granted $1 million to help develop greenways in Southeast Michigan. They’ve also committed $2 million to building a non-motorized trail from Kalamazoo to Battle Creek.

Cycling Negatives Worth Memorizing

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Illustration from the League of American Wheelman BulletinOriginally published in the Good Roads Magazine, June 1901. A publication of the League of American Wheelmen. Note that “wheel” is another term for a bicycle while “scorch” means to race or ride fast. The emphasis on the last tip is our doing.

  • Don’t forget that it is just as far home as it is going out.
  • Don’t leave your wheel outside an office building. Someone may win it.
  • Don’t buy a wheel simply because it is cheap. Remember you have only one neck.
  • Don’t overdo things at the start. Cycling is a good thing but like every other good thing can be worked too much.
  • Don’t pay any attention to the big gear the fellow next door rides. Get one to suit your own style and strength and stick to it.
  • Don’t rely on the other fellow having an oil can or wrench. Better take one along for he may have forgotten his.
  • Don’t forget that you have a bell on your machine at the same time it is often better for you to go a little out of your way than to ring it.
  • Don’t take your wheel apart everytime you come home from a ride. Keep it clean and see that the nuts are tight a good wheel needs little else.
  • Don’t mind the road hog. He was born that way and it’s too late to teach him anything.
  • Don’t scorch on the city street. There is not much glory in it and besides it is expensive.
  • Don’t worry about the fellow with the big gear who gives you the ha ha on the level. Just lay for him on the next hill.
  • Don’t take any chances at street car crossings. It is much easier to go around a car than through it and besides it is far more comfortable.
  • Don’t leave your wheel at home when you can use it. You save expense get the exercise and are sure of a seat.
  • Don’t ride all over the street. Keep to your side of the road but be sure you get what is coming to you.
  • Don’t imagine you have the only wheel that was ever built. You haven’t. There are many others and just as good.
  • Don’t ride hands off on busy thoroughfares. If you must show off your fancy riding hire a hall. You have much more room and then again the price of admission will pay for repairs to self and wheel.
  • Don’t race on the park roads simply because the trotter ahead is going just as fast. This explanation is of very little use if you are the one caught.
  • Don’t think that cycling is a fad. It isn’t. It is a healthy and pleasurable means of transportation to be used when necessity or inclination so dictates.

— Jos Estoclet

The Bicycle Pavilion on Belle Isle

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Detroit's bicycle pavilion on Belle IsleIn 1898, the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) Michigan Division secured a $10,000 appropriation from the city of Detroit. The money was to build a bicycle pavilion on Belle Isle.

They followed up with another $2,500 the following year to “furnish up bicycle pavilion with pump, repair outfit, racks, and other conveniences” according to Edward Hines.

During this time, the mayor of Detroit was William Maybury. The Mayor was presumably a bicyclist since he was a member of the LAW. A statue of Maybury is in Grand Circus Park, sitting in a chair opposite of Mayor/Governor Hazen Pingree.

Just prior to this pavilion being constructed, a New York park agency inquired about how Detroit handles bike parking and bike rentals. Detroit park commission secretary and manager M. P. Hurlbut explained that there was a small (less than 1,000 square feet) pavilion that was bid out to companies renting bikes on Belle Isle. The winning bid was $1,000.

Hurlbut then explained the purpose of the larger planned pavilion:

It is to be a two-story building and the first or ground floor ‘will be used by bicycle riders in case of stormy weather to store their wheels in, and undoubtedly some time in the future there will be a privilege for renting bicycles leased from this building, and possibly a temporary repair shop.

“Wheels” is another term for bicycles.

110 years after being built, the pavilion still stands on Belle Isle, though it is now called the Athletic Pavilion. It is between the now-closed zoo, athletic fields, and tennis courts in the center of the island. From the outside, it seemed to be in decent shape.

The size and grandness of this pavilion is a testament to the strength and importance of bicyclists in the city of Detroit in the late 1890s.

Edward Hines asks you to join the League

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

LAW-bulletin-good-roadsHere’s a piece of Detroit cycling history: A membership plea from Edward Hines that was published May 11th 1899 in the League of American Wheelmen Bulletin.

Here are 20 arguments why you should belong to the Michigan Division LAW. If you are a member read them over carefully and then present them to your friends urging them to join our ranks. Also send in your renewal promptly. If you are not a member read them over and be convinced that you should be a member and then forward us your application.

  1. Drafted introduced and passed the Anderson Bicycle Baggage Bill compelling the railroads of Michigan to carry bicycles as personal baggage free of charge (1897)
  2. Defeated the passage of a special tax of $1 a year on wheelmen in 1897
  3. Issued a road book in 1897 and 1898
  4. Secured a Supreme Court decision against the toll-road corporations, prohibiting them from charging wheelmen toll
  5. Put an active and wide awake wheelman on the Park Board in Detroit
  6. Secured the passage of an anti glass and tack law in Detroit
  7. Secured the passage of a most liberal bicycle ordinance for Detroit – no lamps, no bells, 12 miles an hour speed limit, keep to the right for all vehicles, no riding hands off, no riding more than three abreast, and sidewalk riding permitted on unpaved streets
  8. Prosecuted 23 “road hogs” in 1898 winning every case
  9. Secured a more severe punishment for bicycle thieves
  10. Secured an appropriation of $10,000 from the city of Detroit to build a bicycle pavilion for wheelmen on Belle Isle in 1898
  11. Secured an additional appropriation of $2,500 to furnish up bicycle pavilion with pump repair outfit racks and other conveniences for wheelmen in 1899
  12. Drafted and secured the passage through the state legislature in 1899, a bill to protect cycle paths and to provide for punishment of violations
  13. Encompassed the defeat of a bill before the present legislature to prohibit wheelmen using sidewalks under all circumstances in all parts of the state
  14. Secured a dry strip of five feet in width on all the principal sprinkled streets in Detroit
  15. Arranged with the Board of Public Works in Detroit to remove glass or other hurtful substances, likely to damage bicycles or bicycle tires immediately upon notification
  16. Secured the passage of some good roads amendments before the present session of the state legislature – not all we hope to secure in the way of a good roads bill, but an entering wedge
  17. Have kept up a constant agitation for good roads is gradually bearing fruit
  18. Have secured the repeal of a dozen local ordinances in various parts of the state which worked a hardship upon wheelmen
  19. Has made cycle path building possible in Michigan
  20. Maintains a sharp lookout on all legislative matters the rights and privileges of wheelmen and creates and stimulates wheeling enthusiasm

Now when you have read the above through carefully yourself the question. Don’t I as a wheelman get $1 a benefit through the LAW whether if ride much or little. Are you not willing to lend a helping hand to help us carry our future plans. We want more cycle paths, we want roads, we want danger signs erected, we want guide erected, we want to be fully protected at all times with our bicycle, we want our rights and privileges maintained, and can get what we want by joining the LAW, sticking to LAW, and getting our friends in the LAW. We spent all of our money to secure benefits and privileges for wheelmen and to have our various wants taken care of we must have the financial and numerical support of the wheelmen of our state. It isn’t enough that you should merely belong you should do something occasionally for the wheelmen’s cause and the time to start is now. I again say read the above over carefully then hand this to a friend get his application and have him pass it along to a friend of his.

Edward N Hines, Chief Consul
League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.) Michigan Division

There was a bicycle pavilion on Belle Isle? There still is. We’ll post more about that soon.

Also the LAW had folded by 1924. At some point thereafter, Detroit’s “most liberal” bicycle ordinances were changed to require bicycle bells, lights, and registrations.