There’s truly not a more fascinating way to explore history than through the photograph – for me anyway. Something about the haunting richness of images from the late 19th & early 20th century draws me in, irresistibly. No filmmaker seemingly can pull off the complex period realism of the documentary image, save for maybe Jack Fisk or David Crank. And nobody has compiled a more extensive online collection of these images than Shorpy.com.
From self-portraits, to promotional images, to street photography, these works reveal how common bicycles once were for many classes of people. This is something I’ve always felt strongly about the bike – that it wields to power to enable marginalized communities in ways we’re only just becoming aware of. Knowing this doesn’t hide the signs of racial or gender divides also revealed in the photos selected below, yet it’s encouraging to find such cycling diversity anyway.
It’s also worth noting the total lack of hand-breaks or helmets being employed. Ah, such simpler times we used to live in.
I’ll keep the text short and let the photos speak a thousand words on their own. Enjoy the images below in astonishingly high resolution by clicking the images themselves. Historical information about the subjects can be found by clicking the link below each. Pay close attention to the details. See if you can spot the bike with Swastikas on its tires.
“I began to feel that myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world, upon whose spinning-wheel we must all learn to ride, or fall into the sluiceways of oblivion and despair. We saw that the physical development of humanity’s mother-half would be wonderfully advanced by that universal introduction of the bicycle. We saw with satisfaction, the great advantage in good fellowship and mutual understanding between men and women who take the road together, sharing its hardships and rejoicing in the poetry of motion.”
~ Frances Elizabeth Willard, 1895 – from ‘A Wheel Within A Wheel‘