The July 1974 edition of the DC Gazette had a wonderful little article on the history of bicycling in DC. It contains several interesting bits. I knew that the first American woman given a driver's license was from Washington, DC, but I didn't realize the first American woman to ride a bike was.
One hundred women on bikes led the 1892 League of American Wheelmen parade in Washington, and a local woman, Mrs. William F. Smith, was a star attraction. The wife of a local bike dealer, she claimed to be the1 first women in the U.S. to ride
Claim is unverified. The treasury had so many bike commuters, that they wanted to build them a stable.
By 1898 there were 102 bicycle shops in Washington, and a division head in the Treasury Department noted that there were 400 Treasury Department workers riding daily to work, for whom the department was building a bicycle stable. He wrote in a Star article that though he had begun his career in Washington believing that men on wheels were a "lazy set", he now effused that, these 400 were the best clerks in the department, arriving fresher and in better humor than those who rode the streetcar, and being "rustlers" in work as well as on their wheels.
And there was a "war on bikes"
The first traffic regulations in Washington were occasioned by the bicycle. Before the bike's appearance, Webb's Digest of city ordinances carried no mention of which side of the road vehicles were to be driven on, no provisions for lights or bells, no mention of speed. While the League of American Wheelmen was responsible for promoting sensible traffic regulations, by the 1890's some cyclists felt the regulations were being enforced to such a degree by what were seen as "pro-horse" forces that it amounted to no less than class discrimination.
Another 1st for DC!
Washington was the first large American city to mount police on bicycles to handle cycling offenses. A police detail on bikes led the League of American Wheelmen parade here in 1892. The police considered themselves speed demons, often participating, with much precinct rivalry, in local bicycle races.
And of course details on the Capital Bicycle Club (motto:"Switfly and Silently")
An article in the 1883 Wheelman, a national wheeling magazine, describes the Capital Club as "a little world of itself" where members could share "the pleasant interchange of thoughts and opinions which always characterize fraternal association." Most every night members would gather in the clubhouse to play dominoes, pool or whist while "cleaning bee's" went on in the machine room.
From here every Wednesday and Saturday small groups would leave on tours of exploration or "practise runs" often in the ditches, gullies and commons of East Washington. Member Bert Owen , considered the finest bicycle drill master in the city, was famous for his annual "birthday run" in the early 1880's in which he led fellow members over the most challenging routes he could find in the city.
The club was at the height of its prestige when, in 1886, in incorporated and built its own clubhouse at 409 15th Street, now part of the site of the Commerce building, with its impressive arched entrance carefully designed to accommodate two three-wheelers abreast.
But the Capital Bicycle Club was only one of many inspiring the same kind of fraternal loyalty. Lists of as many as 10 weekend runs organized by as many clubs were common in the weekend newspapers, one such column headed "Razzle, Dazzle, Sis Boom Ah; Century, Century, Rah! Rahl Rah? " The Century Club, the Columbia Athletic Club, the Washington Road Club, the Arlington Wheelmen, the National Wheelmen, the Capitol Hill Wheelmen, even the Queer Wheelmen and other had their colors, trick riders and fast racers.
I suspect by "Queer" they aren't talking about the same thing we would be today.
The Capital Bicycle Club, which disbanded in 1911 when the Commerce building claimed its clubhouse site, could still muster 60 members in 1929 to a 50th anniversary party, complete with long, reminiscent poems.
In 1936 the Arlington Wheelmen, once known for their many racing titleholders, was one of the few bicycle clubs in the country still in existence and celebrated its 48th anniversary in 1936 with a full complement of 100 members. As late as 1953 the Chain and Sproket Club held its 58th annual meeting with 13 remaining members, having never missed a monthly meeting except once during the World War I influenza epidemic.