Friday, June 26, 2015
The earliest bicycle-type vehicle, sometimes called a velocipede or Draisienne was invented by Karl Drais. It had a steerable front wheel, was made entirely of wood, and had no pedals. It required the riders to push along the ground with their feet...in the 1860s, the term "bicycle" was introduced in France to describe a new kind of two-wheeler with a mechanical drive.
The elegant art nouveau postcard above shows a couple sharing a ride on a bicycle built for two. This image is signed Mignot on an early undivided back postcard with space on the front for the sender's message.
In 1878 the first American manufacturer of bicycles began in Hartford, Connecticut with a trade catalogue 20 pages long. They made High Wheelers with a 60-inch tall (that's 5 feet!) wheel in the front. This fanciful vehicle was clearly only for wealthy people - it sold for $125.00 when you could buy a sewing machine for $13.00.
By 1890 bicycles were being mass produced, economical and of a type we recognize today. They were useful for the working man as transportation and here we have an artist-signed French divided back postcard of a courier with his bicycle:
Bicycles were a good way for people to get around when seeing new places, as well as useful for transportation at home. Here is an early undivided back Gruss Aus Wurzburg postcard with a couple on their bicycle.
Of course, bicycles needed maintenance and repair. Below is an early undivided back German postcard advertising Dunlop tires. This is a great illustration, showing a variety of people with their bicycles and including a rectangle in the center for the sender's handwritten message. It was postmarked in 1901.
Like automobiles after them, bicycles allowed couples to get out of the parlor and on the road where a romance could blossom in new-found privacy. Cupid oversees the activity on this colorful embossed postcard postmarked 1909.
Here a couple enjoys a ride together on separate bicycles, ignoring the trolley to go their own way under their own power. This postcard has a great art nouveau design and is postmarked 1906.
Information in this post is from the National Geographic and the International Bicycle Fund. In my research, I found this quote from Susan B. Anthony, famed suffragette:
"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."
The postcards shown here are all European. The difference in Europe and American bicycling continues. Here are some interesting statistics: "Americans use their bicycles for less than one percent of all urban trips. In Italy, 5 percent of all trips are by bicycle, 30 percent in the Netherlands, and seven our of eight Dutch people over age 15 have a bike."
Bicycle-theme postcards come in so many types that you could specialize inside the genre if you wished. Although the ladies in the real photo postcard above are European, there are many images of Americans with their bicycles on real photo postcards, from little children to adults.