From the DC Archives
On January 31, 1879 Herbert S. “Bert” Owen, Max Hansmann, F.D. Owen, L.P. Einolf, F.G. Wood, L.N. Jessunofsy, and Chas. Krauskopf founded the Capital Bicycle Club on the steps of the United States Capitol. Incorporated on May 6, 1886 and the third club of its kind in the United States, the Capital Bicycle Club used its motto of “Swiftly and Silently” to affect public perception of the new transportation device by working with local officials on bicycle safety measures. Major Thomas P. Morgan of the D.C. police department was an honorary member of the Club. As part of Club rules, members were instructed to use bells during the day and lamps at night to avoid collisions with pedestrians. Such measures secured local rights for Club members, and wheelmen in general, while influencing new municipal bicycle policies across the United States.
The members were overwhelmingly professional men who devoted much time and money to icycling. The Club held its first meetings in member homes, but growth caused club members to rent a space on 10th Street, N.W. near H Street. In 1880 the Club moved to 412 11th Street, N.W. In 1882 the Club moved to 919 G Street, N.W. for two years until the federal government bought the building for office space. In response, the Club decided to finance the construction of its own building at 409 15th Street, N.W. Ground broke on May 18th 1886.
Club members organized many expeditions throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia including a tour of the Natural Bridge in 1882 and a tour of Cabin John Bridge in 1884. Individual members were nationally recognized for advanced riding techniques, including Herbert S. “Bert” Owen, founding member and the Club’s first Captain, for being the first man to ride down the United States Capitol steps on a bicycle. The Club also participated in collegial races. On June 29, 1880 the Club’s first annual races were held at Iowa Circle and by 1883 the Club laid a track at Athletic Park at 9th & S Streets, N.W. The Athletic Park was the site of the 5th Annual League of American Wheelmen Races on May 20, 1884.
Although bicycling was the main focus of Club members, social activities included banquets, a bicycle debating society, and a camera club, which sponsored America’s first photography salon the “Washington Salon and Art Photographic Exhibition” in 1896. The most prolific photographer of the Club was founding member and 1884 Captain, Max Hansmann who employed the cyanotype development method popular in the 1880’s, which produced brilliant Prussian blue prints. Max Hansmann’s efforts left a vibrant pictorial record of the Club’s activities and accomplishments.
The Club remained active until about 1912 when the clubhouse was moved from 409 15th Street, N.W. to 1347 Pennsylvania Avenue. Active participation ceased and the old clubhouse at 409 15th Street, N.W. was torn down in 1927. Surviving members continued to hold annual events including the “61st Capital Bicycle Club Birthday” held on January 31, 1940