Events and Exhibits

Baltimore and the Age of the Bicycle

The city of Baltimore grew up in the Age of the Bicycle. The introduction of the first precursor to the bicycle, the Draisine or hobby-horse of 1818, corresponds with Baltimore’s triumphant entry onto the national stage in the War of 1812. Baltimore, a mere village during the Revolutionary War, blossomed into America’s third greatest economic and industrial power in the 19th century. It is no surprise that in 1819 Charles Willson Peale, father of America’s scientific museums, recorded the introduction of America’s first bicycle in Baltimore. The ‘tracena’ was locally made by piano-maker James Stewart and modeled after the German Draisine. Throughout the bicycle’s development, from hobby-horse, to velocipede, to high-wheel, to the modern pneumatic safety bicycle, Baltimore was a natural stage.

Baltimore - Stores & Business - Establishments - George W. Slee, Eutaw Place, Ca. 1895, MdHS, SVF.

The high wheel or penny-farthing type of bicycle, such as this example, was first introduced in the late 1870s. Baltimore – Stores & Business – Establishments – George W. Slee, Eutaw Place, ca. 1895, MdHS, SVF.

As velocipede mania swept America in 1868 and into 1869, the Hanlons, America’s most influential early bicycle innovators, raced publicly in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, while Baltimore inventor Richard Gornall developed an elegant child’s bicycle of his own design (on exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society). At the end of the 1880s, as bicycling transitioned from elitist high-wheel club cycling to more democratic safety-bicycle riding, Baltimore and Maryland hosted the national meets of the League of American Wheelmen—including rides and races specifically for women. Baltimore stories abound from cycling’s golden age—of celebrities like Babe Ruth –  as much a cycling ‘scorcher’ as a baseball hitter – and writer H.L. Mencken, for whom learning to ride in 1898 was a “great and urgent matter.”

League of American Wheelmen  Ninth Annual Meet Official Programme Cover, June 18-20, 1888, MdHS, PAM 5142.

League of American Wheelmen Ninth Annual Meet Official Programme Cover, June 18-20, 1888, MdHS, PAM 5142.

League of American Wheelmen Ninth Annual Meet Official Programme Back cover, June 18-20, 1888, MdHS, PAM 5142.

League of American Wheelmen Ninth Annual Meet Official Programme Back cover, June 18-20, 1888, MdHS, PAM 5142.

Modern Baltimoreans treasure their cycling culture and heritage. Since the 1970s individuals as well as organizations like Baltimore Heritage, have mapped out historic cycle rides that highlight local history and sometimes intentionally follow historic cycling parade routes. Many of today’s Baltimore cyclists ride under the banners of Baltimore Bike Party, an offshoot of the ‘Critical Mass’ movement, or BikeMore and the Baltimore Bicycling Club, vibrant advocacy organizations, while local cyclists can choose between the support of a thriving commercial cycling market and at least three cooperative bicycle projects: it can truly be said that the bicycle (“The Great Leveler) is alive and well in Baltimore today. (Paul Rubenson)

On Thursday, August 7th, MdHS wants you to join us in celebrating the bicycle: 

• Visit the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) for FREE from 10:00 AM – 7:30 PM and experience the special one-day exhibition: American Wheels to the Front: The Involution of American Bicycles (1868-today)
• Enjoy a FREE Young Defenders First Thursday Happy Hour in the Courtyard at MdHS from 5:00 – 7:30 PM
• Eat from local food trucks and imbibe beer and wine (cash bar: $3/beer; $5/wine)
• Witness demonstrations of historic bicycles by modern high-wheel men starting at 6:00 PM
• Take part in a celebratory bike ride led by Baltimore Heritage departing MdHS at 7:00 PM

Please enjoy this slideshow of images from MdHS’s collections. It captures both the evolution of the velocipede and how we as Marylanders have celebrated it over the years.

August 6-8, MdHS is proud to host the International Cycling History Conference:

In 2014 the International Cycling History Conference is celebrating its quarter century. The Conference has been notable for bringing together academics, curators, collectors, and enthusiasts to debate and present new knowledge on all aspects of cycling history. The Conference has a notable track record in bringing to light critical, interesting, and previously unappreciated stories from the history of cycling. Examples include such diverse subjects as exposing the fraudulent ‘Leonardo’ claims to invention of the bicycle, to the role of Col. Albert A. Pope in formation of the bicycle monopoly in 1899, to discussion of the role of cycling in women’s liberation.

For more information on the conference:

Be sure to check out these resources:


Baltimore Bicycling Club

Baltimore Bike Party

Baltimore Heritage




No comments yet.

Post a comment


Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On Pinterest