Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. X111 no. 4. December, 1960
by Laurence A. Johnson
The speed and enthusiasm with which the American public in the late 1860’s took up the use of the self propelled velocipede was almost unparalleled up to that time. In less than three year after Pierre Lallement of Paris, France, assigned to himself and lames Carroll of New Haven, Connecticut, his rights on patent number 59,915, issued November 20, 1866, figure one, this new gadget, called a velocipede, had received such publicity that the bone-shaker, as it was dubbed, became the butt of innumerable jokes and cartoons. Only the tin-lizzies of later days equaled it in this type of free publicity.
A New York City weekly newspaper The Days’ Doings: Illustrating Current Events of Romance, Police
Reports, Important Trials, and Sporting News of May 1, 1869, devoted a quarter page each to two cartoons about the Bone-shaker, as the English had dubbed it. One entitled VERY NATURAL showed ladies promenading while men are passing by riding velocipedes, figure 2. The other, figure 3, foretells the end of horse racing. The horses watching and betting on the men-driven velocipedes. The leading illustration in this same issue, figure 4, filled one-half a page and was entitled THE QUINTUPLE ACT AS PERFORMED AT THE EMPIRE RINK N. Y. see page 339. The news concerning this on page 339 reads: “The velocipede is the reigning sensation of the locomotion of the day and night among us. Velocipede halls are being erected or opened throughout the Northern and Western States in general, and in the cities of New York and Brooklyn especially; and while on our principal avenues and parks the velocipede is no unusual feature, it forms the staple attraction of many of our night assemblages. It is now not only an invention but an institution, not only an exercise but an amusement.
“In the last point of view it has been inaugurated at the Empire Skating Rink, or what was formerly that structure. Here a French troupe of velocipedists have been engaged, and their gracefully rapid evolutions are witnessed by crowds of the curious, especially of our young men.
“In the repertoire of this troupe is embraced a Quintuple Velocipede Act, or an act in which five persons, male and female, exercise and evolve upon one and the same velocipede. The spectable thus presented is at once pretty and peculiar, and finds decided favor with our jeunnese doree.
“Our engraving affords a vivid idea of this quintuple act.”
Mr. S.M. Oliver, in Bulletin 204, Smithsonian Institution, wrote: “The bicycle, perhaps the most widely known form of mechanical transportation in the world today, has been with us approximately a century and a half, and today is used for transportation, recreation, and business in nearly every part of the world. It is stated that a Frenchman, de Sivrac, constructed a crude form of bicycle in the latter part of the eighteenth century called a celerifere. l t consisted of a rough wooden bar supported on two wheels and carrying a padded saddle. The front fork had no swiveling action, so that the vehicle could be steered. It was propelled by the rider striking his feet against the ground. In Paris shortly after 1860, either Pierre Michaux or his emloyee Pierre Lallement fitted pedals to the front-wheels of a velocipede, creating what became known in America and England as the ‘bone-shaker.’ ”
It is interesting to note that Pierre Lallement in his patent, figure 1, gave instructions on how to ride and steer the machine: “If the carriage is inclined to lean to the right, turn the wheel as denoted in red, which throws the carriage over to the left; or, if inclined to the left, turn the wheel as denoted in blue. Thus the carriage is maintained in an upright position, and driven with great velocity by means of the cranks in the forward wheel. The greater the velocity, the more easily the upright position is maintained. To turn the carriage to the right or left, turn the guiding wheel accordingly. By this construction of a velocipede, after a little practice the rider is enabled to drive the same at an incredible velocity, with the greatest of ease.”
Although the period of the hone-shaker was short lived, it did, nevertheless, arouse the interest of. American manufacturers and some began to make and export velocipedes, a consignment of which was shipped to Liverpool for the English market about 1866.
Mr. Oliver continues: “The high-wheeled bicycle, with the saddle well forward over the large front wheel, was first produced in England and was introduced to America by English firms exhibiting at the Centennial Exposition, at Philadelphia in 1876. This type, which became known as the ordinary, was the first practical bicycle. The rider was in a position to add his weight to a downward thrust on the pedals and compared to earlier bicycles of the bone-shaker type, it was a light weight, comfortable machine. It was immediately popular, and the interest in bicycling increased greatly with its introduction. At the close of the Exposition the unsold ordinaries were taken by the Baltimore firm of Timms and Lawford, and most of them were soon sold to the newly organized Cunningham Company of Boston, Mass., which in 1877, was the first bicycle importing firm in America.
ln the same year Albert A. Pope also began importing English bicycles, and in l 878 his company, the Pope Manufacturing Company, of Boston, Mass., became the first manufacturer of bicycles in America. In that year Pope began building bicycles under the trade name ‘Columbia’ in the factory of the Weed Sewing Machine Company, at Hartford, Conn … ”
It was in the general store that most of these boneshakers were introduced to the public. The American Grocer was the first trade publication in America to reach the thousands of cross-roads general stores throughout the nation. The issue of February 19, 1880, figure 5, reveals the speed with which the Bicycle Craze was sweeping the country. This advertisement, in this 11 year old publication, advised the small storekeeper how he could serve his community without stocking these high-priced new Ordinaries. Instructions in the advertisement showed the storekeeper how to order the proper size for his prospective customer: “In ordering please send height and weight of rider, length of leg inside measure to ball of foot with shoes on. Also length of inside seam of trousers.” The wholesale costs of these wheels were from $80.00 to $100.00 F.O.B. New York City.
No doubt the sale of these Ordinaries was helped by the many jokes and cartoons published concerning them as shown in figure 6. This is from a clipping given to me by one of my customers. It was dated in pencil November 19, 1884. The source is unknown.
Toy velocipedes that were propelled by clock-works appeared in the 1870’s. The author has two, shown in figures 7 and 8, in his Old General Cross-roads Store Museum. The one in figure 7, patented in 1870, is quite common. The one in figure 8, patent number 191,278, issued to John E. Conklin of Seneca Falls, Seneca County, New York, May 29, 1877, is much rarer and very unusual. The clock-work housing is finished in Chinese Red and the 19 inch diameter track is in deep blue. The brightly decorated little figure on the velocipede will run over five minutes with one winding. The first three minutes at the rate of forty revolutions per minute.
I have asked many people interested in old toys, if they knew anything about the little old toy velocipede. Only Mr. Louis H. Hertz of Scarsdale, New York, has volunteered any information. This well-known author and authority in toys told me that he believes that it was made and marketed by Althof, Bermann & Company, New York City. Let us hope that some reader can give additional information about this unusual toy, which is a part, if only a very small part, of the story of self-propelled transportation in America.