Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Bicycle in Philadelphia - by H.B. Hart - The Wheelman 1883

I then made application to the Pope Mfg Co. for the agency of their bicycles in Philadelphia and received it. My first proceeding was to mail out catalogues and reading-matter to the elite of the city, who at once became interested in such a novel and wonderful horse. We called it the silent steed then; but now of course it is a carriage. I soon found that unless the public could be taught to ride I reached the ears of an alert newspaper man, who published a racy article about them, which caused a cessation of their practice for a time.

My first bicycle was sold April 16, 1879. to Mr. Joseph W. Griscom, and he taught himself to ride. In May I went to Boston for the purpose of learning to ride, and to get a general idea of the manner in which the business was conducted there. While I was wrestling with a machine in the Pope M'fg Co.'s school, a telegram was received by them announcing the organization of the Philadelphia Bicycle Club, signed Thos. K. Longstreth, President.

This news encouraged me greatly in my efforts, and I pitched into the bicycle harder than ever. We had an unhappy faculty of pitching and rolling around with such uncertainty that the floor was soon cleared of all save my wheel and I, and we continued vigorously until at last I could ride. I shall not attempt to describe my emotion when I had conquered this wheel; I was so delighted that I bought it on the spot. It was a 44-inch; but no matter, that was the wheel I had wrestled with, gone all the way to Boston and won; I would have none other.

Shortly after my return to Philadelphia I hired a room in a large warehouse, at 222 Wood street, put in a couple of second-hand machines, gave prospective buyers each a key, and told them to go down there and learn how to ride. This practice-room was well patronized, and no doubt its strict privacy was a help to it; but this did not last.

The seed had been sown, the plant had sprung up thoroughly healthy, and was growing rapidly. I put in several more bicycles, and secured the services of a teacher, an Englishman, who could tell us all about bicycles in the old country. This teacher was none other than the celebrated Professor Rollinson, now well known to all wheelmen.

I began to advertise this school, and it flourished. It was located on the third floor in a dingy old building, at an out-of-the-way place; but the room was large, and afforded an excellent place to learn in. Here it was that Jo Pennell familiarized himself with the vehicle which he has since so ably illustrated. Here Mr Willwyn Wistar, former treasurer of the L.A.W., mastered the bicycle, and Mr. Henry Bently conquered its difficulties.

Soon the business outgrew the place, and there was a general desire for more suitable quarters. These were found in the Horticultural Hall building on Broad Street, and in November I opened there "The Columbia Bicycle Riding School." I extended my advertising, and the new school was well patronized. …

The defense was, that the bicyclers were using a public highway, and were not amenable to park regulations, and that even if the park authorities had jurisdiction over the drive in question there was no law excluding the bicycle, which was a carriage, it having been decided to be such by English courts, and by our government at Washington in fixing the duties on imported bicycles; that his clients were exercising their just rights, and could not therefore be fined. In closing his argument the counsel stated that he had travelled some two thousand miles on his bicycle.

"Don't care how far you've traveled on it, nor what other people think of 'em,"said the Judge, "it's a velocipede, and nothing else, and these gentlemen are fined five dollars each and cost." With this decision the court adjourned.

While the second petition to the commissioners was pending, an appeal was taken from Magistrate Clark's decision, but withdrawn, as it was thought that the park commissioners would not consider any petition favorably as long as there was a suit pending against them. And it was not deemed wise to antagonize them.

The second petition was granted shortly after the withdrawal of the suit. This gave to the bicycle-riders great pleasure, and the portions of the park allotted to them were much used. Great care was taken to avoid frightening horses, and the results were satisfactory to all concerned. …

Thus began the sort of bicycle agitation which has continued to the present time. The Sunday Dispatch of August 19, 1879. commenting on the bicycle case, said : —

“A bicycle is an exaggerated velocipede. That is a position which we are ready to maintain against the president of the Germantown Bicycle Club, who declared the other day, in an argument before Magistrate Clark, that the bicycle is not a velocipede, but a carriage. It is certainly a velocipede, no matter what other name may be given it.”

Referring to bicycle riders the same article said: —

“It is not a necessity that they should mount themselves on two high wheels and rush wildly through the streets, merely to gratify their own thirst for excitement.”

That this article, which throughout was adverse to bicyclers, was written in ignorance, is shown by the reference to Mr. Longstreth as president of the Germantown Bicycle Club, and to the bicycle as having two high wheels.

It is interesting to quote from the same paper when it had become more enlightened. June 5, 1881, it said : —

“Either the bicycles should be excluded from the park altogether, or they should be admitted at all times…”

More of the Story - Source: The Wheelman – Vol. 3 – 1883

The Bicycle in Philadelphia – by H.B.Hart

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