Esplanade closure begins February 1st

From The Oregonian, Jan. 1, 1895: ‘Reign of the wheel’

Posted by on January 2nd, 2014 at 8:25 am

An 1899 newspaper ad for a Portland bike shop, from a
presentation by local bike historian Eric Lundgren.

The first issue of The Morning Oregonian in 1895 included an article that holds up wonderfully well.

It was published one year before the first organized bicycle recreation association formed in Portland; two years before 800 local donors crowd-funded the city’s first dedicated bike path on North Williams and Vancouver Avenues; four years before Oregon governor-elect T.T. Geer bought a bicycle of his own and led the charge for road improvements through the state.

And 119 years later, this short case for the merits of biking still feels like the perfect way to kick off a year of progress.


The Present Passion for the Bicycle Likely to Hold Out.

What may be called, not improperly, the bicycle passion has full possession of several leading countries of the world. England and France, notably those parts of them in and about London and Paris, have been so given over to it for some time that a large proportion of their population come and go on their errands of business or pleasure “on a wheel,” says the December Century.

Americans who have recently traveled abroad have been astonished at the general use of the bicycle there, and have been still more astonished, on returning to their own country during the last year, to discover what headway the passion has made here.

The article ran on p. 9 of The Oregonian, available on
the Multnomah County Library website (card required).

It is said to be a conservative estimate by competent authorities that during the year now closing a quarter of a million bicycles have been sold in the country, and that the number of riders approaches 1,000,000. There are said to be over 50,000 in New York, and its neighborhood, and fully half that number in Boston. The latter city caught the passion from Europe some time before New York did, and has a larger proportion of its population, male and female, regularly devoted to it.

Observers of the phenomenon are wondering whether it is merely a passing whim, or whether it “has come to stay”: whether those who have taken it up will continue it after the novelty has worn off, or whether they will drop it for the next new fad that shall come along. There are many reasons for thinking that its stay will be permanent. Undoubtedly many of those who take it up because of its vogue will tire of it after awhile, but these will not constitute a large proportion of the whole number.

The great body of riders find in the bicycle a new pleasure in life, a means for seeing more of the world, a source of better health through open-air exercise, a bond of comradeship, a method of rapid locomotion either for business or pleasure, and many other enjoyments and advantages which they will not relinquish.

Image from the Sunday Oregonian, May 20, 1900.

The bicycle has, in fact, become a necessary part of modern life, and could not be abandoned without turning the social progress of the world backward. Few who have used it for a tour through the country would think for a moment of giving it up and returning to pedestrianism instead. Aside from the exhilarating joy of riding, which every bicycle devotee will assure you is the nearest approach to flying at present possible to man, there is the opportunity of seeing a constantly changing landscape.

The bicycle is, indeed, the great leveler. It puts the poor man on a level with the rich, enabling him to “sing the song of the open road” as freely as the millionaire, and to widen his knowledge by visiting the regions near to or far from his home, observing how other men live.

He could not afford a railway journey and sojourn in these places, and he could not walk through them without tiring sufficiently to destroy a measure of the pleasure which he sought. But he can ride through 20, 30, 40 and even 70 miles of country in a day without serious fatigue, and with no expense, save his board and lodging. To thousands of men and women the longing of years to travel a little as soon as they could afford it is thus gratified, virtually without limit; for a “little journey in the world” can be made on every recurring holiday or vacation.

Emphases mine. Love local bike history? Check out this presentation from Portland bike historian Eric Lundgren (my favorite slides are probably “Women on Bikes” and “Barbarians on a Bicycle”) and see the links in this BikePortland post. And see this 1940 Oregonian clipping on PDX Tales, which clued us in to the existence of the earlier article.

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  • SilkySlim January 2, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Wow! What a read. Loved how they dropped in the “tire” pun.

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  • kittens January 2, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I would read the O if they wrote like this still.

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  • Josh G January 2, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Loving catching up on the History tag in the site. I notice a few more pre-2009 interlinked posts with “Eric Lundgren” that should be under that tag as well. Here is a search:

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  • Eric January 2, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Those were the salad days! The efflorescence, alas, was brief, perhaps only a decade.

    In fact, just a decade later the Oregonian would write:

    Those in City are Being Demolished Beyond Repair
    Bicycle paths inside the city are disappearing and will soon be a thing of the past. On Milwaukie street, between Division and Beacon, the path has been torn up, and a man is slowly but surely continuing the work of destruction further south. At Midway on the Milwaukie road, the cycle path has been torn up. On East Twelfth street, between Hawthorne avenue and Division street, the path is nearly gone. On East Twenty-first, where a path was built from Division street to the carshops, there comes a demand that the path be condemned and removed. Complaint is made that it is a nuisance and in the way, so that residents cannot deliver wood and other articles at their homes.

    And so the cycle paths that were built along streets in Portland are doomed, and will soon disappear altogether. Owners of bicycles have ceased to pay their license and the county has ceased to pay attention to the paths. In the county the need for these side paths along the county roads still remains as much for the use of farmers as for wheelmen, and can be maintained at small expense, but inside of the city cycle paths along the streets take up too much space; besides Portland is now getting many miles of hard pavement, doing away with the need for these paths.

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    • Todd Boulanger January 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      I loved this portion of the text for the important but forgotten link to farmers…who made up of ~40% of the working population back then:
      “In the county the need for these side paths along the county roads still remains as much for the use of farmers as for wheelmen, and can be maintained at small expense…”

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  • Oliver January 2, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    People have been attempting to operate licensing/registration schemes (and failing) for over 100 years.

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  • q`Tzal January 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I love how this statement from the article shows how the politics have changed:
    “The bicycle is, indeed, the great leveler. It puts the poor man on a level with the rich, enabling him to “sing the song of the open road” as freely as the millionaire, and to widen his knowledge by visiting the regions near to or far from his home, observing how other men live.”
    The same statement in a newspaper now would appear to be a declaration that automobiles are tools of the 1% to oppress the poor.
    Of course the part where the ultra rich don’t want riff-raff like us in their way hasn’t changed one bit.

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    • Mossby Pomegranate January 2, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      Seriously this class warfare crap has gotten old. Some of the biggest a-holes on the road are far from being in the “1%”. And many of these righteous poor folks don’t want bikes in their way any more than some “rich guy”.

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      • q`Tzal January 2, 2014 at 4:54 pm

        My truck has broke down and is in a shop. Overheard on a major national news channel this morning:
        “There’s no such thing as income inequality in America.” this rant went on for a couple minutes.

        Guess which network it was?

        You can pretend reality isn’t real all you want, it doesn’t make reality go away for the rest of us.

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        • CaptainKarma January 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm

          I carry a quickly programmable remote control when flying. I use it to squelch the poisonous network you are likely referring to when I am literally *forced* into watching it at every airport. Heheheh.

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    • Al from PA January 5, 2014 at 5:09 am

      [snip] It puts the poor man on a level with the rich

      It’s still true, and it still scares a lot of people, including many of our Republican friends… Hence the perverse argument that biking is somehow elitist…

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  • JL January 2, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    January 17, 1900 Morning Oregonian.

    Cows and Wagons Are Driven Over Mount Tabor Cycle Way.

    The cycle paths on the Base Line road, from East Thrirt-fourth street to Mount Tabor, have been driven cattle over. Some one drove a heavy wagon along the north side path for a considerable distance, cutting the path with the wheels, and the horseshoes made deep impressionss in the surface.

    So on and so forth, until the cyclist decided to stop paying the tax since drivers have been been using the paid for bike paths since 1900

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    • Spiffy January 5, 2014 at 10:27 am

      damn those freeloading motorists using our bike paths for free!

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  • pdx2wheeler January 2, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Smoking a corn cob pipe while haulin’ some booty on a bike… The tradition of keeping Portland weird seems to go way back! Love those bike helmets too.

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  • Doug Klotz January 2, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Stark (Baseline) and Division (Section LIne) both had wood bike paths clear to Gresham in 1899? SE 12th as well? Let’s rebuild the Historic Bike Paths!

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  • fredlf January 3, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Hmm, sounds like those folk who were howling about how bike improvements on Vancouver didn’t respect the “history” of the area didn’t do their research. Surprising.

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  • Ken Wetherell January 4, 2014 at 8:24 am

    “a method of rapid locomotion either for business or pleasure…” Here here!

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  • Michael396 January 4, 2014 at 9:24 am

    I just read ” The Lost Cyclist “. It’s set in the early 1890’s. At the time people were riding ordinaries from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, and riding safety bikes around the world. Pretty cool stuff!

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    • GlowBoy January 5, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      I read that book recently too. Fantastic! For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s the story of a cyclist who, amid great fanfare, attempted to bike around the world (making it most of the way before disappearing), and of the attempt to find out what happened to him. Really an engaging adventure story.

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