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

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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. Also check out their blog post for even more images of bicycles from the Library’s collection.

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.

Comments (15)

  1. I am a cyclist and very excited about this exhibit. I cannot come to the Library on Friday, however. Will the materials be displayed at any other time? Thank you. Sharon

    • Hi Sharon, This display will only be for that one day. I will make sure that I, and my fellow LC bloggers, will write more about the specific material on display and include the links to the digital surrogates.

  2. I also cannot make it on the 8th. May I suggest that this exhibit be repeated on a Saturday?

    • @Boyan Thank you for the suggestion. Our special display will only be on Friday August 8th. For those that cannot make the event, the LC bloggers are writing up some posts that highlight a selection of the Library’s cycling collections. Here is a blog post from our Prints and Photographs curators. Stay tuned for more…

  3. This collection looks very interesting but trying traveling to DC and more importantly trying to return on a Friday afternoon is a real challenge…it would be great if these collections were available for more than one day…or were opening earlier on Friday…

    • @Meade. I wish we could have the display for longer. To rememdy this I am working with the LC bloggers to highlight selections from the event. Here is a blog post from our Prints and Photograph curators. Stay tuned for more…

  4. Plessant Sharon + Jennifer

    Strange, into the Dutch-Country
    i still see mutch stagnation with bike`s.

    Meight to danger to use carbon into Holland (criptical)

    (vv) i hope my immigration is soon ranged
    xxxxxxx-yes + big huggggggg `moi`

  5. (pv)(vv) Plessant America, pardon me for
    the time-table into my carbon-bike-option.

    on this computer time-table where it is written 13;37u

    pressent-time holland now 11:37u

  6. I hope you will consider creating a more permanent exhibit based on these examples.

  7. For Mark. I thought he would like it!

  8. For Mark

  9. Hi Jennifer,
    I’m researching my father’s cycling career in 1938 & 1939. High point was winning AAU National Championship in 1938. Races all in Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Can you suggest sources for me in the Library of Congress?

    • Hi Steve, I need to research what the Library has on 1930s cycling since I am most familiar with the late- early 19th/20th century material. I will email you a more detailed response soon. Off the top of my head the American Bicyclist and Motorcyclist was being published in the 1930s, so this would be a good place to start. Also the local newspapers tend to give info about races. Cycling manuals may also contain info about racers and racing- though these tend to focus on the big races such as Tour de France.

  10. Thanks for these historical cyclist displays. I know this is a long-shot, but where would I find the bike documents that where displayed in the “Cycling through Europe” area? I have a friend who would appreciate old sports memorabilia.

  11. Mark – I will put your question into Ask a Librarian and forward it to the European Division.

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