Pedaling Through History: A Look at Cycling Collections Across the Library of Congress

Flyer for the August 8th Pedaling Through History special display. Photograph of Madge Lessing from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Flyer for the August 8th Pedaling Through History special display. Photograph of Madge Lessing from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library’s curators and specialists are gearing up and pounding the pedals for an exciting tour of the Library’s collections related to the history of cycling for visiting historians of the International Cycling History Conference.  On Friday August 8, 2014 from 1:30-3:00 p.m. the Mumford Room, in the Library’s Madison Building, will be the hub for a special display of “Pedaling Through History: A Look at Cycling Collections Across the Library of Congress.” This special display is open to the public and will feature over 20 tables of show-and-tell items in all formats on the art, history, and science of wheelmanship (aka cycling).

Here is a selection of what you may find at the event:

Bike Maps and Atlases: The League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W) was influential during the 1890s and they promoted bike trails, which begat roads,  which ultimately lead to the “Good Roads Everywhere” promotions for the automobile. The Geography and Maps Division will feature material related to the evolution of the road with examples from the 1789 Survey of the Roads of the United States (the earliest survey of roads in the United States), the roads as of 1896 (one example is from a road book published by L.A.W – Fifty Miles Around Brooklyn), and a modern cycling atlas of the same geographic area. Other atlases and maps related to cycling will also be on display.

Curators’ Choice: This table will feature a potpourri of books (late 19th century- today) that have caught our curators’ eyes.

Cycling and Fashion: The Humanities and Social Science Division will be highlighting fashion (i.e. what to wear when cycling)

Déesse 16, rue Halévy, Paris advertisment poster by Jean d  Paleologue, ca. 1898

Déesse 16, rue Halévy, Paris advertisment poster by Jean d Paleologue, ca. 1898

Cycling Off to War: The use of the bicycle for military purposes likely dates to the 1870s and the Franco-Prussian War, but really came into development in the 1890s, when the device became a ubiquitous transport medium. It was lightweight, strong, easy to fix, quiet and faster than a horse or soldier on foot. Bicycles were adapted as ambulance stretchers, used in laying telegraph lines and surveying and carried weapons, as well as soldiers. Even folding models were designed. Its efficacy was proven during the Boer War of 1899-1902, and used in WWI, WWII, as well as Vietnam. The Science Reference Section will be featuring items related to military cycling and will highlight the 1896 25th Infantry, the “Black Bicycle Corps.”

Cycling through Europe: The European Division will be displaying material related to 20th century bike races and tours through/in Europe (e.g. Tour de France), distinguished European bicyclists, and  bicycle design.

Cycling through Serials: This table from the Serials and Government Publications Division will feature historical U.S. newspapers, comic books, and perhaps even some pulp magazine covers. An introduction to Chronicling America, a collection of historical American newspapers, will also be presented.

Historical U.S. Periodicals: This table will feature a selection of late 19th century to early 20th century periodicals such as Bearings, American Cyclist, Bicycling World, Outing, Referee & Cycle Trade JournalWheel and Recreation, and many more. These publications are loaded with manufacturer & shop advertisements, innovations, biographies of notable cyclists, local/national cycle news, clubs, tours, races, helpful hints, and gossip! 

Cover of the 1894 Columbia Bicycles catalog from Pope Manufacturing

Cover of the 1894 Columbia Bicycles catalog from Pope Manufacturing

Peddling Bicycles:  The Business Reference Section will be displaying late 19th - early 20th century bicycle catalogs from the U.S., such as Columbia Bikes from Pope Manufacturing &  A Discourse on Cycling with especial Relation to Sterling Bicycles and other materials related to the industry.

Rare Books and Special Collections: As the name implies, this table will feature rare and special material such as broadsides and pamphlets related to cycling from the Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

Recordings: The Recorded Sound Section will be showcasing bicycle-themed recordings. There will be 78s and LPs on display, as well as picture sleeves. Also on display will be a talking machine with horn and a manual phonograph playing the 78s.

Reels with Wheels: The Moving Image Section will feature footage of trick riding, safety films, bike races from the late 19th thru the 20th century.  Visitors will see a short clip reel highlighting the various films.

Take a Ride with P&P: The Prints and Photographs Division will feature a selection of posters and photographs such as an early 20th century bicycle shop, a photograph of an unusual bicycle, a poster for Overman Wheel Company’s Victor bicycles, a poster advertising Stearns bicycles, and much more.

Times boy on bicycle [1921]

Times boy on bicycle [1921]

Wright Cycle Company: The Manuscripts Division will have a table that focuses on items related to the Wright Cycle Company. One of the items on display will be a letter on the Wright Cycle Company stationery dated Sept. 3, 1900- Wilbur Wright tells his father that he is about to take a “trip to the coast of North Carolina in the vicinity of Roanoke Island for the purpose of making some experiments with a flying machine” and explains why he is doing it. You can view a digital copy of this letter here.

We are feeling ‘pumped’ up about this event and can’t wait to take our guests on a spin through the Library’s collections.

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