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A Little California History

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A Little California History

Old 10-11-15, 09:18 AM
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A Little California History

Nilda Rego, Days Gone By: Bicycle craze finally reaches California

By Nilda Rego, Correspondent
Posted: 10/07/2015 12:12:10 PM PDT0 Comments | Updated: 4 days ago

The bicycle came late to California, probably 20 years later than the rest of the country. And when it came, it wasn't highly regarded as the kind of vehicle that would replace the horse as a reliable mode of transportation.

One of the first articles we found regarding the use of bicycles locally was a notice in the amusement column of the March 6, 1869 issue of the Daily Alta California.

"The Velocipede School. -- The Pavilion on Union Square is still an object of great attraction on Saturdays for visitors who wish to see the wonderful exercises of the bicycle. The class of learners in the use of the velocipede is, however, very large, and the managers have been obliged to extend their hours. On and after Monday next, the Pavilion will be open evenings, and the brilliantly lighted halls will be filled with the practitioners in the art of velocipedestrianism."

On Aug. 25, 1877, when a telegraph line was about to join Sacramento with other parts of California, the Sacramento Union suggested that the bicycle messengers would be the way to deliver telegrams throughout the city.

"The use of the bicycle in business is yet unfamiliar in this country, but in Europe it is being put to more extended employment all the time, and there can be no doubt that it will revolutionize many kinds of business, besides supplying a cheap and rapid means of transportation."

The paper pointed out that riding would be a lot quicker than walking for telegram delivery, but added that while the bicycle would work in Sacramento, it probably wouldn't in San Francisco because of all the hills.

On Nov. 30, 1870, the Daily Alta reported on the first bicycle contest in San Francisco. It was a three-day event featuring six male riders at the Mechanics Pavilion. The first prize would be $500, second prize, $300 and third prize $200. Tickets cost 50 cents.

It would take six laps to make a mile around the oval track. A ladies' race at 8:30 p.m. was the first event of the Sunday evening event, followed by the men's race at 11 p.m.

"The three ladies were handsomely costumed. Miss Baymer wore flesh-colored tights, black velvet trunk and tunic, richly embroidered, a gold belt, and cavalier cap with ostrich feather. Miss Lee was prettily attired in a rich green satin Court suit, trimmed with gold, and a jaunty white cap. Mrs. Martin wore a neat jockey suit of black and red."

Baymer won the $25 purse offered the ladies, covering 18.5 miles in two hours. That part of the evening turned out to be so popular it was repeated for the next two nights.

H.C. Eggers won the main event, covering 543 miles. He donated his prize to local hospitals, saying he had only entered the contest for his own amusement.

By the 1890s the bicycle had really gained popularity in the West. Bicycle clubs became the rage. Story after story appeared on the proper costuming for bicycle riders. And advertisements showed up featuring bicycles for sale from $35 to $125.

Days Gone By appears on Sunday. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net
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Old 10-11-15, 12:14 PM
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This 1896 cycling map of California shows how popular cycling had become in the Golden State toward the end of the nineteenth century.

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