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Researching Bicycling History through Newspapers

Bulletin #: 30
by Charles W. Meinert
Revised: 2018-01-14

One of the great sources of information about bicycling in its golden age are the pages of American newspapers published in that era. The last quarter of the Nineteenth Century was a period when almost every modest village had a weekly newspaper and each major urban center had a number of competing dailies. A large number of the major newspapers of the era and many of the smaller newspapers have been preserved on microfilm. A few libraries in almost every state own microfilm copies of some Nineteenth Century newspapers and most libraries can determine where microfilm copies of specific newspapers are held and make arrangements to borrow reels for their patrons. Most libraries have good microfilm readers that allow users to adjust the magnification and make copies of material for a charge.

Even if you donít plan to conduct a formal research project and write a paper, reading about the bicycle activities described in several monthsí issues of 1890s newspapers will give a wonderful feel for that age when bikehood was in flower. Small local and regional newspapers are often on microfilm but they are less likely to be indexed. Begin by scanning issues of a specific year of these newspapers and you will soon determine what coverage, if any, was given to bicycling and approximately where it was normally located in that publication. Good news for researchers is the fact that some microfilmed newspapers such as The New York Times, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The New York Daily Tribune, and The (London) Times have been indexed. This makes it possible to turn to a year such as 1895 in the index and find, for example under the topic bicycle, a list of articles that appeared during the year. Each listing includes the month, day, page, and column number, so that the item can be readily located on the microfilm.

While indexes are very helpful, they are not infallible. Newspapers often contain some bicycle items that are not indexed. Occasionally the location listed for an indexed article is incorrect. Normally, however, it is a case of only having the wrong column or being off by a page or two. Bicycle advertisements are not indexed, but since most ads include illustrations, they can be found by viewing the paperís advertising sections.

A newspaper can be a good place to start researching since it gives one account of an event. A competent researcher should, however, attempt to go beyond a single account of any event. Additional newspapers or sources may provide new information or even cast doubt on something reported elsewhere. The value of a multiñsource approach was demonstrated to me when I gathered twelve accounts of Mile-a-Minute Murphyís famous June 30, 1899, ride behind a train. Almost every account added something not found in the other reports, and in some cases inconsistencies emerged.

Most competent public libraries should be able to borrow microfilm reels of The New York Times or The New York Daily Tribune. Microfilm of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle is more difficult to obtain. The New York State Library in Albany may be the best source for borrowing the Eagle. You may need to work in stages when reviewing any of these newspapers because one monthís editions of an 1890s newspaper may constitute a reel of microfilm and some libraries will only lend a few reels at one time. College and university libraries in your area may also be useful even if you are not a student or graduate of the institution. Many academic libraries will allow the public to use material in the library. Some academic libraries have a ìfriends of the libraryî type of organization that you can join. Membership in the organization will often permit full use of the libraryís materials and services.

Major Indexed Newspapers and Sample Listings

The New York Times. The paper began publication under this title in the 1850s as a four page afternoon daily selling for one cent a copy. After two decades of growth, the paper began to decline because of competition from Pulitzerís World and other illustrated publications. In 1896 the Times was restored to health by the Ochs family who made it a quality morning newspaper that obtained a circulation of 75,000 by the late 1890s. The Times has subsequently been indexed from its beginning to present and is widely available on microfilm. Editorials on biking and other subjects are indexed separately from regular articles. In the peak years of the 1890s there were so many articles on bicycling that they were often indexed under subheadings such as Bicycling, Bicycle Clubs, Races, and Bicyclers.

While many of the bicycle articles in the paper deal with the metropolitan area, there is also coverage of regional, national, and international news on bicycling. There are, for example, articles on Stevensí world tour, reports of major rides in this country, and news of LAW meetings and activities. Just reading the index is like looking at the menu in a great restaurant; you want to sample it all! Even the number of articles in respective years is interesting, for it gives a sense of the growth and decline in the popularity of the bicycle.

The following short excerpt from the index of bicycle articles in The New York Times for 1894 gives a flavor of the contents. You will first find the title of each article then the month and date it appeared, and the page and column number on which the article begins.

Bicycling Affairs

  • Amateur Championship Contestants DiscussedóApril 15ñ3ñ3
  • Asbury Park; Routes toóMay 19ñ3ñ6
  • Asbury Park MeetóJune 18ñ8ñ3
  • Associated Cycling Clubsí Races at WalthamóMay 31ñ3ñ3
  • Best Wheels in Market DescribedóJan 7ñ1ñ2
  • BordeauxñParis Annual Race; ResultsóJune 3ñ15ñ6
  • Century Run; Newark to PhiladelphiaóApril 17ñ3ñ6, April 24ñ3ñ6, May 15ñ3ñ6, and June 10ñ3ñ1
  • Coney Island and Fort Hamilton RunsóJune 10ñ1ñ5
  • Delaware Water Gap Route from New YorkóJune 10ñ13ñ6
  • Eckís Hints on TrainingóJan 14ñ3ñ5
  • England Amateur OneñMile Championship Race: National Cycling Unionís Rulings Regarding LicenseóJune 24ñ13ñ5
  • Carlisle, R. L.; Race Against Time From Landís End to John oí GroatísóMay 26ñ3ñ7
  • Hill, H.H. and E. Peltier; Tour Around the WorldóMay 8ñ3ñ5
  • IrvingtonñMillburn RaceóMay 17ñ3ñ5, May 20ñ3ñ6, May 24 and 26ñ3ñ5, May 27ñ3ñ4, May 28ñ6ñ2, May 30ñ3ñ6, May 31ñ3ñ1, June 6ñ3ñ5
  • HandicapóMay 26ñ3ñ5
  • Negro W. Simmonsí Entry Rejected; LitigationóMay 24 and 26ñ3ñ5
  • Won by A.H. Barnett: Cut of Timeís MedalóMay 31ñ3ñ1
  • Johnson, J.S.; Waltham Track Challenge AcceptedóMay 3ñ3ñ5
  • Mile World Record Broken at Waltham; NY InterviewóJune 19ñ3ñ6, 20ñ3ñ5
  • Long Distance Race at Paris Won by HuretóMarch 16ñ6ñ2, 19ñ6ñ4, 21ñ6ñ2, 23ñ6ñ3, 25ñ7ñ2, 26ñ7ñ3
  • Long Island Century RunóJune 8ñ3ñ6, 25ñ6ñ4
  • Long Island Popular RunsóMay 26ñ3ñ6
  • Madison Square Garden; Six Day Race; Prize Money DiscussedóJan 3ñ3ñ6
  • Madison Square Garden ShowóJan 7ñ10ñ1, 8ñ3ñ4, 9ñ3ñ1, 10 and 11ñ3ñl, 13ñ6ñ1, 14ñ3ñ5
    • Trade Organization DiscussedóJan 11ñ3ñl
    • Manufacturers BanquetóJan 12ñ3ñ1, 13ñ6ñ1
  • Martin Road Race Won by L. CallahanóMay 31ñ3ñ4
  • Middleton, W.; TrialóMay 17ñ9ñ1
  • Mile Record Broken by J.S. Johnson in 1:56óJune 27ñ3ñ5
  • Montreal ñ Sarnia Relay RaceóJune 17ñ13ñ7
  • Mosher, H.: Fast Quarter MileóJune 12ñ3ñ5
  • Newark; Best Route to ReachóJune 17ñ13ñ7
  • NewarkñPhiladelphia Century RunóApril 17ñ3ñ6, 24ñ3ñ6, May 15ñ3ñ6, June 7ñ3ñ5, 10ñ3ñ1
  • NewarkñPrinceton CenturyóJune 25ñ6ñ4
  • New Jersey Associated Cycling Club Century Run; Newark to Asbury ParkóJune 21ñ3ñ5, 23ñ3ñ4, 24ñ2ñ3
  • New York City; Lights Ordinance Enforced Discriminatingly; Fair Play ComplaintóMay 6ñ19ñ7
  • New York State Circuit; Troy RacesóJune 5ñ3ñ5
  • Orange NotesóMay 7ñ8ñ1

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1841ñ1955, was an important afternoon newspaper that gave careful attention to sporting news and rejoiced in the accomplishments of its baseball team, yachtsmen, boxers, bowlers, horsemen, and bicyclists. The city had over fifty wheel clubs in the midñ1890s. Some of these organizations such as the Kings County Wheelmen had more than 200 members and elaborate clubhouses. Other clubs such as the Whirling Dervishes didnít have a constitution or byñlaws, much less a clubhouse. Brooklyn cycling highlights of the 1890s included the intensive use of its seventyñfive acre Prospect Park, the construction of a bicycle path from the Park to Coney Island, the addition of a return path to handle crowds of riders, massive bicycle parades sponsored by the Good Roads Association, first class racing at the Manhattan Beach track, annual road races, century runs on Long Island, and club social events.

The following is a short excerpt from the index of bicycle articles in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of 1896.

  • Babylonís Sidewalk OrdinanceóFeb 26ñ10ñ1
  • Bald, Eddie, suspended; Mar 19ñ10ñ5, Breaks a State RecordóJune 21ñ5ñ1, Beats SangeróOct 11ñ9ñ5
  • Banks, Louis Albert, Rev. Dr., Liberal Toward CyclingóMay 2ñ4ñ3
  • Bath Beach and East New York Project for a Route BetweenóOct 22ñ12ñ1
  • Bath Beach, Initial Run of K.C.W. to,óApr 13ñ10ñ1, Aug 16ñ3ñ3
  • Bay Shore RacesóJuly 19ñ28ñ5
  • Behrends, Rev. Dr., Down on Sunday CyclingóJune 8ñ7ñ7
  • Berkshire Hills, Ride Through theóJuly 2ñ4ñ4
  • Berloís Mile RecordóMar 8ñ14ñ7
  • Bicycle of Gold and SilveróAug 23ñ7ñ7
  • Bicycle Worth $1,000óApr 1ñ10ñ1
  • Bicycle Academy, an Immense to be Built in New YorkóMay 3ñ17ñ3
  • Bicycle Boat (illustrated)óNov 15ñ21ñ0
  • Bicycle Chain, a New (illustrated)óJuly 26ñ17ñ6
  • Bicycle, the Electric ComingóJune 28ñ10ñ1
  • Bicycle PatentsóDec 6ñ21ñ5
  • Bicycle the, Immora: (Ed.)óOct 10ñ6ñ5
  • Bicycle Tours of Long Island (illustrated)óJuly 5ñ14ñ1
  • Bicycles and the Church (Ed.)óApr 27ñ6ñ4
  • Bicycles and Elevated Trains (Ed.)óJune 24ñ6ñ5
  • Bolton, Mr., in FloridaóFeb 8ñ10ñ3
  • Brooklyn Bicycle Club of Present Day, Group PortraitsóJune 28ñ10ñ0, Club in 1888ósame
  • Patchogue Wheelmen Won in Associated Cycling Tourney Eagle Cup ñ Nov 13ñ9ñ2, 14ñ10ñ3
  • Patchogue Wheelmen Portraits of Officers ñ June 28ñ11ñ6, Will Build a Club HouseóJuly 15ñ3ñ2, Glory Won by ñ Oct 3ñ10ñ3
  • Path, an Elevated (Ed.) ñ Apr 28ñ6ñ4
  • Path BuildingóMar 17ñ10ñ3
  • Pequodís and Good Roads Assín ControversyóOct 24ñ4ñ3
  • Pequodís Dispute Amphionís Claim to Credit of Merrick Century RunóJan 3ñ5ñ4, Suit ThreatenedóJan 3ñ5ñ4, Beaten TwiceóFeb 25ñ10ñ3, Double Century to Sag HarboróNov 4ñ16ñ2, Annual EventsóNov 4ñ16ñ2
  • Pequodís ParadeóOct 30ñ9ñ5
  • Pequodís Rebuked by the Associated ClubóOct 20ñ12ñ1
  • Piano Squabble Between S. Brooklyn and Liberty Wheelmen in CourtóJan 15ñ5ñ4
  • Pitman, Will R.óOct 23ñ12ñ3
  • Pneumatic Tire Patent Sale Arranged in DublinóApr 19ñ7ñ4
  • Points for CyclersóMar 8ñ16ñ2
  • Police Cycling, Flatbush People Object toóJuly 29ñ7ñ6
  • Police Races at ManhattanóJuly 26ñ4ñ1
  • Pope, Albert A. portrait of, etc.,óJan 20ñ10ñ5
  • Post, Carroll J. Jr., portraitóFeb 28ñ14ñ4
  • PotterñTinsdale Difficulty in the LAWóFeb 26ñ4ñ3
  • Prospect Cyclers Split in RanksóFeb 28ñ10ñ3, Property to be DividedóMar 3ñ10ñ5
  • Prospect Park, Days When Wheelmen Were Barely ToleratedóJune 28ñ8ñ1

The New York Daily Tribune. The Tribune was one of Americaís most influential newspapers in the 19th century. It was begun as a penny paper by Horace Greely in 1841. The paper showed enterprise in gathering news and obtaining contributions from famous people. The publication was a reflection of its famous editor who showed toleration for new ideas and supported many types of social reform. While some thought the paper would perish with the death of Greely, the Tribune found new life in 1873 under Whitelaw Reid and his family. The paper had a circulation of 75,000 by 1892 and it was the first modern newspaper to publish an annual index, beginning in 1876. The Tribune continued into the 20th century and was merged with the Herald in 1924.

The following is a short excerpt from the index of bicycle articles in The New York Daily Tribune of 1898.

Bicyclesó

  • Special Article: FullertonóSep 11 (IV)ñ3ñ3
  • Allen, Mrs. Boston TripóAug 1ñ2ñ6
  • Allen, Mrs. A M C, fails in RaceóOct 5ñ4ñ4
  • Asbury Park RacesóAug 25ñ8ñ1
  • Bald Defeats CooperóAug 13ñ8ñ2
  • Bald Beats a RecordóAug 25ñ8ñ1
  • Baltimoreís Proposed TaxóMar 20ñ5ñ2
  • Bedell in Tenñmile RaceóJul 3 (II)ñ2ñ3
  • Berkeley Oval Freak RacesóJuly 5ñ5ñ6
  • Berkeley Oval ContestsóJune 19ñ6ñ4
  • Bicycle Day: ApprovedóJan 25ñ10ñ1
    • Board of Trade EndorsesóFeb 3ñ4ñ1
    • ObservedóFeb 23ñ10ñl
  • Central Park Speedway PlanóJuly 22ñ8ñ3
  • Century Road Club and ProfessionalsóJan 24ñ4ñ2
  • Century Wheelmen GymkhanaóSep 4ñ8ñ6
  • CissacñSims RaceóJuly 1ñ5ñ6
  • Dealers Refuse to DiscountóMar 27 (II)ñ3ñ3
  • Elevated Train ServiceóApr 24 (II)ñ3ñ3
  • Exports for 1896, 1897, 1898óOct 24ñ3ñ3
  • Export StatisticsóNov 20 (II)ñ2ñ1
  • Firemen of New York ContestsóSep 18ñ6ñ6
  • Foreign TariffsóNov 6 (II)ñ2ñ2
  • Free Ferriage BillóJan 29ñ4ñl
  • Heart Troubles: Stanton ReportóJuly 1ñ3ñ2
  • Indianapolis Ripple PathóJune 26 (II)ñ2ñ1
  • Indianapolis PathóJuly 31 (II)ñ2ñ2
  • Insanity Cases HelpedóJune 28ñ8ñ4
  • Kings Co Wheelmen RacesóJune 26ñ7ñ5
  • Klienberg 300ñmile RaceóJune 29ñ5ñ6
  • Kaser Wins 5ñmile PursuitóMay 29 (II)ñ2ñ4
  • LAW Circular on PoliticsóOct 27ñ12ñ5
    • Dealers QuarrelóMar 25ñ9ñ4
    • Dealers AnswersóMar 29ñ10ñ3
    • National ConventionóFeb 9 through 14
    • NY Division Meeting: RowóJune 19ñ6ñ5
  • Linton Breaks 30ñmile RecordóMay 31ñ4ñ4
  • LintonñTaylore ContestóJune 19ñ6ñ5
  • LintonñTaylore 30ñmile RaceóJuly 6ñ8ñ6
  • Linton Defeats MichaelóJuly 17ñ4ñ1
  • Long Distance Records BrokenóJuly 26ñ4ñ5
  • McDuffee Breaks 15ñmile RecordóMay 15ñ8ñ2
  • McDuffeeñHoyt RaceóJune 12ñ7ñ1
  • McDuffee Breaks Worldís RecordsóJune 18ñ4ñ5

More information on these and other newspapers can be found in Frank Luther Mottís American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years ñ 1690 to 1940. New York: Macmillan, 1941.

Note: A researcher who desires copies of indexes for The New York Times - 1875 to 1904, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle - 1892 to 1901, and The New York Daily Tribune - 1880 to 1904, contact the Publications Chair.


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