474. Aug. 20, 1997 -- Bicycle craze evident in 1897:
Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 1997
Bicycle craze evident in Hamilton in 1897
By Jim Blount
"Hamilton has in her midst a bicycle rider who is bound to come to the front sooner or later with his feats of skill and daring," proclaimed a Hamilton newspaper in 1897.
"The person," said the Daily News, "is William Ely, who . . . rode down the courthouse steps before the wondering gaze of many people. The feat was accomplished a week or more ago by 'Racycle Lawrence,' but Mr. Ely was the first Hamiltonian to undertake and successfully accomplish it."
"The steps facing Front Street were first ridden down successfully, after which the High Street steps were tried and ridden down three times successfully," the newspaper said.
Racycle Lawrence -- obviously a sobriquet -- was a barnstormer for a bike manufacturer. He had descended the steps of the Butler County Courthouse as part of an advertising campaign for the Factory & Office Supplies Company, 147 N. Third Street. The store's newspaper ads boasted that it had "the largest stock of wheels ever displayed in Hamilton."
The fascination with riding down the courthouse steps was part of the bicycle craze that gripped Hamilton, Butler County and the nation in the 1890s.
The pages of local newspapers in the spring and summer of 1897 reflected the popularity of cycling. Activities ranged from competitive sport and social events to exhibitions -- such as the courthouse steps feat, a test of both rider and bicycle.
Bicycles with large front wheels, small back wheels and hard tires had been around for half a century before the 1890s.
"What launched the bicycling fad of the '90s was the 1884 safety bicycle, with its pneumatic tires, medium-sized wheels of equal diameter, chain linkage, adjustable handlebars, cushioned seat, coaster brakes and comfort and ease of riding," said Charles Panati in his book on fads.
An 1896-97 state directory listed 34 bicycle manufacturers in Ohio, including the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, in Dayton.
A column called "Wheel Notes" was a regular feature in the Hamilton Daily News in the summer of 1897.
It reported such news as "Will Duersch and Jake Schwab rode a tandem (bicycle) to Oxford Sunday," and "Harry Semler, George and Charles Duersch wheeled to Miamisburg Sunday on Semler's triplet." A June edition gave details of the Butler County Cycle Club's Sunday run to the Cincinnati zoo.
Among the races and competitive events in the summer of 1897 was the July 3 field day sponsored by the Middletown YMCA, highlighted by a 15-mile road race with a $125 Racycle as first prize. Among the dozen events were a half-mile contest and a one-mile tandem bike race.
Hamilton entrants finished 11th and 15th in the 15-mile dash to Blue Ball and back, won by a Sidney bicyclist in 52 minutes and 36 seconds.
In Hamilton, the season climaxed with the Butler County Cycle Club's annual Labor Day competition at the Butler County Fairgrounds.
Panati reported the number of safety bikes in the U. S. rose from 20,000 in 1884 to 10 million by 1895 -- "a truly remarkable figure considering that bikes were never cheap," ranging from $50 to $150 in the mid 1890s.
Cycling was so firmly established in the U. S. in 1900 that the editors of The Literary Digest predicted that the automobile would "never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle."
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475. Aug. 27, 1997 -- Women joined 1890s bicycle fad:
Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1997
Hamilton women joined 1890s bicycle fad
By Jim Blount
"Campbell Avenue is the place to see the pretty girls gliding along gracefully on their wheels," reported the Hamilton Daily News. "Some of them look especially pretty in their new costumes."
The newspaper also urged that "the residents on the avenue should, early in the evening, sprinkle the street to lay the dust" and "make the pleasure more delightful."
Those 1897 comments mirrored the rising interest and investment in bicycling a century ago. Newspapers reflected the trend, including the Daily News, whose columns in 1897 included fashion suggestions for female "bicycle costumes for elegant occasions."
The fad is credited with revolutionizing women's clothing, including encouragement of shorter skirts.
The 1890s cycling craze is regarded as the first sporting activity to include female as well as male participants.
It also was a social event. Bicycle activities were reported in the society columns of local newspapers.
For example, an article headlined "Bicycle picnic" said: "A number of young ladies met this afternoon at the home of Miss Luella Parrish and from there left on a bicycle picnic. Well-filled lunch baskets were strapped to the wheels, and after a 10-mile ride, supper was partaken in the woods. "Among the party," the report said, "were Misses Nell Laurie, Luella Parrish, Josephine Slater, Neil Schroeder, Grace Black, Mary Curtis, Bessie Roll and Pearl Woods."
Campbell Avenue -- mostly developed in the 1880s -- attracted social riders in Hamilton in the 1890s. With a park dividing its lanes from North Seventh Street to beyond North 10th Street, it provided an ideal promenade for bikers interested in meeting members of the opposite sex.
In Hamilton and across the nation, campaigns for street and road paving were promoted by bicyclists, not motorists. In 1897, when the Daily News suggested that Campbell Avenue residents "sprinkle the street to lay the dust," there were no paved streets in Hamilton or paved roads in Butler County. The paving of High Street from the river to Fourth Street started that year.
The Butler County Cycle Club and local members of the League of American Wheelmen joined forces in 1897 in promoting a 10-foot cinder path as a bike course. It began at Fourth and High streets, extend east along High to Seventh, then north to Campbell Avenue. An extension south along East Avenue also was proposed.
With about 3,000 bicyclists in the city, a $1 annual license was suggested. Proponents advocated using "the money for keeping the streets in repair, or laying a cinder path on many of the streets."
The military also joined the bicycle craze. In April 1897, the Hamilton Rifles -- a local state militia group, comparable to today's National Guard -- voted to establish a bicycle corps among its members. Three months later, the group demonstrated for the public.
"The Hamilton Rifles, 30 men in rank and file, gave a very fine drill while mounted on bicycles on High Street," the Hamilton Democrat reported July 7, 1897.
From April through September, there were varied weekend events for bikers. One of the most ambitious was a sojourn planned by the Butler County Cycle Club. It was a two-day round trip on Memorial Day weekend from Hamilton to Columbus, Ind., over graveled and mud roads.
Earlier in 1897, members of the Chicago Cycling Club arrived on a Sunday morning on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad to join local counterparts on a ride from Hamilton to Cincinnati.