Monday, March 17, 2008

Critical Mass in 1896

Here's an interesting article [PDF] on "The Great San Francisco bicycle protest of 1896."
Since the 1880’s, riders across the country had lobbied for access to the streets. Increasingly organized, their mission was political and social as cycling became a way of life. Bicyclists demonstrated in large American cities, including Chicago, where wheelmen and wheelwomen held riding exhibitions and mass meetings, forcing the city to withdraw a rail franchise for a west end boulevard.

Cyclists were encouraged to decorate their wheels, citizens along the route to decorate their properties, with prizes offered for the finest display. A few men rode in drag, one “in the togs of a Midway Plaisance maiden,” another as an old maid. Uncle Sam rode in bloomers next to a down-home hayseed.There were meaner stereotypes: Sitting Bull and Pocahontas; a man in bloomers mocking “the new women;” one in blackface; one “imitating a Chinese in silks and slippers.”

Approaching Powell and Market, “the cyclists encountered a surging mass of humanity.” Bells of a dozen trapped streetcars added to the chaos.When the number 21 car got too close to one division, some in the crowd began rocking it, attempting to overturn it.
Read more in this PDF from Processed World.


  1. Cyclists were encouraged to decorate their wheels

    Scraper bikes in the nineteenth century?


  2. And dudes dressing in drag, too. I thought the whole thing was fascinating to read.