Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fred Ward's Bicycle Shop

Lance Armstrong would have felt right at home in 1890's Long Island. Before automobiles became a practical alternative, the bicycle had a bloom of popularity which owed its success to the mechanical improvements of the Industrial age. In the early 1800s, the gearless "hobby horse" and the big-wheeled "bone crusher" (shown at the left in an illustration from Harper's Weekly ) evolved into the more familiar "safety bicycle" design which sported gears and brakes.

In 1880, the League of American Wheelmen was formed to promote bicyclists' interests. Over the next decade, local clubs of cyclists or "wheelmen" formed throughout the country. While many engaged in bicycle racing, most were formed as social clubs, with dining and drinking almost as important as riding. The Long Island Wheelmen, The Brooklyn Wheelmen, The Century Wheelmen, The Nassau Wheelmen, the Dean's Cycle Club, the Riverside Wheelmen, the Greenwich Wheelmen, Manhasset Cyclers, the Lexington Wheelmen are just a few of the local groups represented in articles about the popularity of cycling. By 1898, according to the League of American Bicyclists' web site, the League had more than 102,000 members, including the Wright Brothers, Diamond Jim Brady and John D. Rockefeller. Many clubs had meeting halls and admitted women as well as men.

Susan B. Anthony (in a February 2, 1896 interview with The New York World) said:

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood."
In 1880, part of New York City's Washington's Birthday celebration featured a rallye of all the bicycle clubs from the New York area and from as far away as Hartford, Boston, Trenton and Philadelphia. The route stretched from Third Avenue in New York City to Tarrytown, NY, where the participants would dine and then return to the City (a round trip of at least 50 miles.)

An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (7/22/1895) details another ride which passed through Freeport on the way to Patchogue. Among the names listed in the article is one Fred Ward, whose bicycle shop is pictured below.

Note the motors on some of the bicycles. Beginning with early models in the 1860's, motorized bikes like those designed by French and German inventors (most notably Gottlieb Daimler in 1885) entered the market and in 1895, the DeDion-Buton company of France designed a lightweight, 4-stroke combustion engine which allowed the mass production of motorcycles. This was rapidly copied by Harley-Davidson and Indian and American motorcycle companies quickly made up for lost time.

Anyone with information about Mr. Ward and/or the location of his shop is invited to contact the Library.
Further reading in the Hewlett-Woodmere collection:

From our Historic newspapers: (New York Times requires ProQuest login):
From other Internet sources:

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