WEEKEND HISTORY: BICYCLING IN THE 19TH CENTURY

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Lincoln Square looking North from 64th street. 1899.

Bicycles began to become popular in the second half of the 19th century, and historical accounts from the 1880’s talked of a bicycling and tricycling craze in New York. (Those crazy tricyclists!)

In Central Park, bicyclists actually had to get a badge and wear it on their chests, according to the annual report from Central Park in 1885. They were also given instructions to “observe due care and caution at all times, especially in the vicinity of pedestrians; they must conform promptly to all directions and cautions from the keepers and other officers of the park, and in case of accident render such assistance as may be necessary, give their name and address, or badge number, if required, and assume such responsibility as circumstances may warrant.”

Check out the photos above and below from the Museum of the City of New York.

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Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side (not clear what block exactly). 1893.

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86th street, looking East from West End Avenue. 1905.

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People taking a break from biking on the benches along Riverside Drive. 1896.

bikes clermontA group of people standing behind a row of parked bicycles on a grassy meadow at the “Clermont” (likely the Claremont Inn near Grant’s Tomb). 1895.

NEWS | 9 comments | permalink
    1. ScooterStan says:

      Re: “In Central Park, bicyclists actually had to get a badge and wear it on their chests,…”

      WHAT a great idea! It should be re-implemented today so that we mere pedestrians have some recourse against the too-common arrogant cyclists who have absolutely no respect for/awareness of RED STOP LIGHTS on the park’s bike paths.

      Re: “They were also given instructions to “observe due care and caution at all times, especially in the vicinity of pedestrians….”

      Hah! How old-fashioned! Never happen today!

      • Tal F says:

        You are forgetting that back then there WERE NO STOP LIGHTS! Also no cars, which are a much greater danger to pedestrians and cyclists. But sure, get rid of the stop lights and the cars and trade them for cyclists required to wear badges seems like a fair trade to me.

    2. Jean says:

      Wonderful photos of my old neighborhood.

    3. naro says:

      What a beautiful city it was. The city is so overcrowded, noisy, dirty and stinkey now. We have become accustomed to living in hell.

      • ScooterStan says:

        Re: “The city is so overcrowded, noisy, dirty and stinkey now. We have become accustomed to living in hell”

        Well, for some unfathomable reason, our “hellish noisy-dirty-stinky” WORLD-CLASS CITY continues to attract:
        1) almost 50 MILLION visitors per year;
        2) hordes of 20-somethings bored with the banality of their hometowns and determined to be a part of a WORLD-FAMOUS CITY;
        3) and outer-borough/suburban types by the hundreds every weekend who realize that there is really a fascinating place just a short drive away from their quarter-acre plot of crabgrass.

        Not sure how many WORLD-CLASS CITIES you’ve been in, but you’d probably find the TRULY GREAT ONES like Barcelona, London, and Rome to be too “hellish” for your sensibilities.

        Of course, you could always move rather than stay here and insult this wonderful city.

        They say Peoria is real nice this time of year!

        • Guy says:

          Easy now big fella.
          It is a dirty and noisy city.
          It will not be a world class city if it was quiet, clean and oh so orderly.
          Having said this, I will add that it is a city of magic, which gets us all right in the gut.
          Better places to live a quieter life there are plenty, but only NYC will grab us and keep us on hold.

      • whaaa says:

        Yes unfortunately you’re right. And compare what NYC has become with how it was without a million bags of garbage and dog piss all over the sidewalks. Scaffolding on every block. Overflowing bins, filthy subways. The mind boggles at how terrible this formally gorgeous city has become.
        Go to any town in Europe. Pristine.. there’s no comparison. Are we really so disgusting? How did this happen?

    4. fucface says:

      Back in the day when it made sense to have bikes!!
      Way too many cars going on now. And they’re building garage parking for the poeple moving into the huge building development in the 30’s through 60’s on the Hudson. Insane!

      • ScooterStan says:

        Re: “And they’re building garage parking for the poeple moving into the huge building development in the 30′s through 60′s on the Hudson. Insane!”

        Fact-Check !!!:
        That “huge building development” of which you speak is probably Hudson Yards…and it does NOT extend from the “30’s through the 60’s”. And it is NOT REALLY “on the Hudson”.

        RATHER it is focused on the blocks between W.30th and W.34th Street btw. 10th and 11th Avenues (where the new 7-Line Extension will terminate) AND it is MAINLY COMMERCIAL, with a new residential building at W. 29th/10th Ave (Abington House, designed by famed starchitect Robert A. M. Stern).

        There ARE other new developments in what is colloquially called “The Far West Side” and Hell’s Kitchen, but they are BY NO MEANS a contiguous swath.

        But it WILL bring some really exciting new architecture to an area that for years had been left to moulder…at least until The High Line breathed new life into what was once a very very scary neighborhood!