Bicycling in Nebraska

Dr. J. H. Fowler, a Kearney dentist, and his wife with their bicycles about 1904. NSHS RG2608-2627

Dr. J. H. Fowler, a Kearney dentist, and his wife with their bicycles about 1904. NSHS RG2608-2627

Before mass production made the automobile available to average Nebraskans, bicycles were a major mode of transportation in the state’s large towns. The first real Nebraska bicycle fad appeared in the 1890s after the introduction of the “safety” model with sprocket chain drives and identically sized wheels. Bicycle historians often call this period a golden age of cycling.  

Bicycles were important not only for transportation, but for recreation as well. Cycling clubs for men and women spread across the United States. Century clubs sponsored hundred-mile excursions to be completed in less than a day to test the mettle of their members. Read here about an Omaha club that made a century ride in 1892 to Tekamah and back.

 During the height of the bicycle craze, bicycle races were sponsored by many Nebraska towns and county fairs, with prizes ranging from medals to cash. Read here about an 1896 bicycle race in Grand Island, in which there “were so many entries in the professional races that it was necessary to run trial heats for qualification.”

 It was even thought that the bicycle might have military applications. Learn about the Twenty-fifth Infantry Bicycle Corps, which in the summer of 1897 made a 1,900-mile bicycle trip from Fort Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis to test bicycles for possible military use. Led by Lt. James A. Moss, the soldiers pedaled through Humboldt, Nebraska, on their way south.

Newspapers on file at the Nebraska State Historical Society include extensive coverage of cycling events. Check here to see what Nebraska newspapers are available on microfilm.—Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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One Response to Bicycling in Nebraska

  1. norm prince says:

    Interesting note about the use of bicycles prior to the automobile explosion. In doing some research in a western Illinois newspaper from the late 1890′s and into the early 1900′s I would often come across an article about a family member riding his bike from one town to the next to visit with family or friends. I tend to forget it was either the local train or a horse back in that time period so a bicycle would be another method of travel, yet in the rural areas it must have been a stout machine.


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