On May 2, 2017 I will be presenting a 3 Hour “CLE” [Continuing Legal Education] class at the Columbus Bar Association. I did a one hour CLE for the Cincinnati Bar Association in 2016 and am excited to expand this to 3 hours.
The initial part of the presentation is a bit of a history lesson on cycling and the law. To understand the passion of today’s cyclist, both for riding the bike and protecting our right to ride, you have to go back the the Bike Boom days – back to the 90’s – during the first Bike Boom… ummm… you know that occurred in the EIGHTEEN NINETIES, right?
I guess I always pictured that period – the 1880’s -1890’s – as a world in Black & White, but the “Gay 90s” [also known as the “Naughty Nineties”] was a time of tremendous color and vibrancy.
In 1890, Orville & Wilbur were active bike mechanics, starting their first bike shop in 1892. Bicycling was THE big thing during that era. Horses and wagons were so old school – cars were still on the horizon. The bicycle was the rage… for fitness and health… travel… society. Cycling occupied considerable column space on the social/society pages of the New York Times. All the Cool Kids were doing it – “A Bicycle Built for Two” was also written in 1892. [The song is said to have been inspired by Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, one of the many mistresses of King Edward VII.]
Remember too that the 1880s were just 20 years removed from The Civil War… and Lincoln’s death in 1865. This was a time of great turmoil, and rebuilding. The Second Industrial Revolution was in full swing- electricity was finding its way around the country. The West was still “Wild”. By 1880 our USA population was over 50,000,000. Five states had populations exceeding 2.0 million – New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri and… ta da… Ohio! By 1890 the population had jumped to almost 63,000,000.
On May 30, 1880, the League of American Wheelmen was founded at a meeting of like minds in Newport, Rhode Island. Also in 1880 the Cincinnati Cycle Club was founded! By the early 1890s there were several bicycle clubs in Cincinnati alone, and dozens throughout the state of Ohio.
To give you some historical perspective, a year later, in 1881, the Gunfight at the OK Corral takes place for 30 seconds in Tombstone, Arizona! Interestingly… [to me as a photographer anyway…] the Gunfight didn’t even take place at the OK Corral – rather, it took place in a lot next to CS Fly’s Photographic Studio, about 6 doors down… I guess “Gunfight at the OK Corral” sounded a lot better than “Gunfight Outside CS Fly’s Photo Parlor!” Ha!! CS Fly turned out to be quite a historical figure in his own right- becoming one of the first “photojournalists” who captured photos during the Indian Wars while chronicling life in the era. So while “easterners” were toodling around town on their fancy new bicycles, the Wild West was still pretty wild!
I am in the midst of writing the materials for my 3 hour CLE on “Bike Law” in May – the historical stuff is really fascinating. I have a book published in 1892 which details the best roads for Cycling in every county in Ohio! Imagine that… 1892… and there were cyclists riding all over Ohio – so much so that a BOOK was needed to let cyclists know where to go and what to see –
Think about how that book would have come about in 1892 – I’m sure cyclists in all 88 counties typed up their thoughts and emailed them to the editor…errrr… wait… the typewriter was just INVENTED 1868… It wasn’t exactly a household “thing” at that point… Photography was also a big new thing – invented in the early 1800s and becoming more widespread. The Civil War was the first photographed war –
Another historical volume I own is a yearbook from Oberlin College in Ohio from 1895. It’s fascinating to see how advertisers were targeting the kids back then. The book has dozens of ads for new fangled technology – Photoshop lessons, Texting, New-Fangled Transportation… er… more like “Photo Re-Touching,” Typewriters and Bicycles!!
By 1880 bicycling was so big [and controversial] that when the leading advocates of the day convened in New York and created the “League of American Wheelmen” one of their main purposes was to PROTECT THE RIGHTS of cyclists. The WheelMEN also included a large number of “WheelWomen” as well, as women flocked to cycling. This was especially true after the High Wheeler gave way to the “safety” bicycle and one did not need to have the skill set of an acrobat just to mount the thing!
In fact, many “First Fact” books and lists have determined that the “First Auto Crash” recorded in the U.S. occurred on Memorial Day in 1895 when Henry Wells was driving in a car race through the streets of New York City – a race sponsored by Cosmopolitan magazine. As Henry was racing he lost control and ran into a vehicle operated by Evelyn Thomas, who suffered a broken leg. Evelyn’s vehicle of choice was a Columbia… BICYCLE… one of the top high-tech models of the day!
In 1895 an early Bike Lawyer, George Clementson, published “The Road Rights & Liabilities of Wheelmen: with Table of Contents and List of Cases. Clementson cataloged dozens of “bike cases” from around the country which created, and preserved, the right of cyclists to ride their bikes on the public roads.
Just as there today those who would prefer to banish us from the road, there were many who were not beholden by “The Wheel” and felt cyclists should be kept out of the way of other “traffic” and off the roads. The LAW grew from 40 or so to 200,000+ members in a very short time and developed in the political and legal powerhouse organization which vigorously opposed and fought efforts to shove bicycles off the road through court challenges and the development of the first “traffic” laws.
Clementson’s book was dedicated “…To The Devotees of Terrestrial Flight in its Most Exhilarating Form…”
Clement son’s writing covered just about every “hot topic” in bicycling that we are dealing with today –
Definitions of “the roadway,” municipal liability for defective highways, the use of bicycles on city/village streets, “Negligence and its redress’…
This very first Bike Boom exploded under a backdrop of the “Victorian” era – with sharp contrasts between those who felt sin was everywhere and those who were exploring more of the boundaries of life! The flocking of women to cycling was especially seen as troublesome by “those” who would judge such things! But flock to the bicycle they did! Women were huge early adopters of the new technology!
Churches were swept up too as many parishioners chose to take Sunday bike rides instead of attend Sunday services! In his article, “The Moral Threat of Bicycles in the 1890s,” Livia Gershon writes:
Up until the invention of the modern “safety” bicycle in 1887, few women rode the high wheel bicycles of the previous generation. But in the 1890s, a “cycling craze” offered a new kind of mobility to many young women.
Bikes facilitated unchaperoned dates—even elopements. Just as troubling to some moralists of the day, cycling women often wore bloomers, widely seen as indecent, that were much like men’s pants. The Women’s Rescue League of Boston even claimed that, following the closing of brothels, prostitutes were riding bikes to reach their clients.
“Bloomers” became a “thing” – something to laugh about – argue about – a symbol of either Freedom & Emancipation or the Ruination of Society, depending on which camp you were in I suppose… Bloomers were talked about – joked about – sung about – even … litigated about… Early pistol-packing women even had the option of adding a gun pocket to their bloomers! Who Knew!?!? In Kansas, they tried to legislate a Bloomer Prohibition, with Rep. Lambert arguing the bicycling “destroys the health” of women and “unfits them for the important and sacred duties of motherhood…”
Susan B. Anthony recognized the importance of cycling for women – in addition to health benefits,the bicycle represented Freedom – Freedom to Travel, to Move – Freedom to Escape the House – Freedom to Explore the World – She famously said, in 1896, that the bicycle “…has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world…” In 1895 Frances Willard wrote about “How I Learned to Ride a Bicycle” at age 53!
Another historical document I have collected is the February 10, 1900 edition of Scientific American. This journal published an article entitled “Half a Century in the Development of the Bicycle” which chronicles the change in bicycle design.
We’ve all seen that “look” a kid gets when they first get that feeling of MOVING on a bike – you feel like you are FLYING! Kids today are used to travel – car travel – being carted from place to place. Imagine the sense of Freedom that men and women must have felt in the 1880s and 1890s when they were able to zip around on their new-fangled technology! LOTS of SMILES I’m sure…