The Game of Cycling, Parker Brothers Salem MAStories

The North Shore and the Golden Age of Cycling

R. H. Bicycles, Salem MA

The American popularity of bicycles originated in Boston, which held the first U.S. bicycle race on May 24, 1878. In 1883, Abbot Bassett of Chelsea set out on the first recorded 100 mile bike ride, meandering on an adult tricycle along the North Shore to Ipswich and back home.

George Chinn of the Beverly Citizen and Marblehead Messenger published the Essex County Wheelman’s Handbook, providing cycling routes, maps and lists of local hotels and bicycle clubs. The magazine noted that Ipswich Roads “have the reputation of being the best in the county.” They currently have the reputation of being the worst.

In 1886 Boston businessman Pope introduced the Columbia Safety, a modern two wheel “safety” bicycle, priced at over $100 apiece, which enabled a cyclist from Newton to ride round-trip to Ipswich on the Newburyport Turnpike (Rt. 1) in 9 hours 50 minutes, setting a new record for a 100 mile ride. Pope advertised his bikes in a Boston publication called “The Wheelmen” and by 1890 the city had become the home of “Bicycle Fever”.

Cyclists on Wakefield Common in 1890
Cyclists on Wakefield Common in 1890, courtesy of the Wakefield Historical Society.

The bicycle was a freedom machine, enabling people who had never traveled far from home to ride dozens of miles in a day. Bicyclists filled the roads, wearing their finest cycling clothes while perched on the status symbol of the era. The bicycle was the fastest vehicle on the road, and The Boston Daily Globe began promoting races and social events throughout the area.

Wheelwoman magazine
Boston’s Mary Sargent Hopkins (aka “Merrie Wheeler”) published a women-specific cycling magazine, The Wheelwoman, expounding cycling as an element of social reform and physical well-being,
Sisters Flora and Susan Baker on a tandem bicycle, photo courtesy of Ipswich Historical Society

The photograph on the right shows sisters Flora and Susie Baker on a “Sociable”, a two-wheeled tandem bike with side-by-side seats and handlebars, convenient for courting (if you survived). The photo is courtesy of the Ipswich Historical Society

North Shore tricycle tours took women to Gloucester, Ipswich, Essex and Newburyport accompanied by men on bicycles or together on tandem tricycles. Despite enduring public rage, women began riding from home to work, and by the mid 1890’s two million American women owned or used bicycles.

In 1895, Boston’s Annie Londonderry became the first woman to bicycle around the world.

Women's penny farthing North Shore Cycling Tour, Salem MA
Women’s penny farthing North Shore Cycling Tour, Salem MA
The Boston Bicycle Club in 1878
The Boston Bicycle Club in 1878

Arthur R. Lord grew up in the late 19th Century in a house at the corner of County Rd. and Waldingfield Rd., known at the time as “Underhill’s Corner.” The house was later moved to another location by the Tuckerman family. He wrote in his memoirs:

“Cycle Clubs of Boston staged “Century Runs” on summer Sundays. Sometimes one of these passed through Ipswich, en route to Newburyport, in the morning and again returning. In the morning I was in church but in the afternoon I saw all those beautiful “bikes” tooling merrily past our corner. My brother had a “big wheeler” a bicycle with a huge wheel in front and a tiny one trailing behind. I learned to ride it by mounting from the top of a wall, hitting each pedal a lick when it ros e within reach and continuing until the machine finally 15 deposited me in the ditch. My younger sister also mastered it to the same degree. But it was nothing like those sleek bicycles that I saw on Sundays.”

A bike for 2 on Central St.
A bike for 2 on Central St.
Cyclists at Bartlet Mall in Newburyport
Cyclists in Newburyport, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury
Workers at the Kimball Shoe Factory in Lawrence, courtesy of the Lawrence History Center
Workers at the Kimball Shoe Factory in Lawrence, courtesy of the Lawrence History Center
Bicycle gang
Somewhere in Ipswich….
The Soldiers Standard Bicycle
The Soldiers Standard Bicycle
Racing bicycle early 20th Century, early photos from Ipswich Massachusetts
W. A. Banfill with his new racing bike, George Dexter photography studio in Ipswich
farm family in Ipswich MA
Ipswich Chronicle publisher George Schofield, with family, bicycles dogs and a horse, photo by Ipswich photographer Edward Darling
Ipswich Chronicle publisher George Schofield
Ipswich Chronicle publisher George Schofield
The Essex County Bicycle Militia (1896)
The Essex County Bicycle Militia (1896)
Currier's Garage in Ipswich
Ernest Currier owned the town’s first bicycle shop, where he also repaired “horseless carriages.” The building still stands. The building to the right was moved a few doors up South Main Street closer to the bridge to make way for the Dodge dealership, and is still standing as well.

At the end of the century, Albert Pope turned his attention toward production of an electric automobile. Henry Ford began mass-production of the Model T in 1908 and soon thousands were being sold each day at the irresistibly low price of $240. The Newburyport Turnpike (Rt. 1) was paved in 1922 and Congress authorized massive paving of roads under Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). By 1930 Ipswich citizens began the commute by automobile to Boston for work, leaving little time for what now were considered children’s toys. Ironically, the bicycle fed our insatiable appetite for travel, independence and faster mechanized transport. American’s love affair with the automobile began and with it came an end to cycling’s “Golden Age,” and bicycles became toys for children.

A student at Manning High School in Ipswich, riding with no hands
A student at Manning High School in Ipswich, riding with no hands
Emma Safford with her bicycle at the Safford home on Green St.
Emma Safford with her bicycle at the Safford home on Green St.
A.B. Fellows at his home, which was at the entrance to the Proctor Estate
A.B. Fellows on a bicycle at his home, which was at the entrance to the Proctor Estate

1 reply »

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.