Friday, February 04, 2005

Bicycle History

Steve Weinberg takes a look at Bicycle: The History by David Herlihy.
[T]o call the book a traditional history is misleading. Herlihy uses brief boxed asides, artwork, photographs, cartoons, technical drawings and other tools to dazzle. The oversized format could qualify the tome as a coffee table book, except that I think of that term somewhat negatively, connoting something rarely read, and for good reason. 'Bicycle,' on the other hand, is compulsively readable.
In an interview about the book, Herlihy spoke of the technological and social impact of the bicycle
Q: What was the impact of the invention of the bicycle?

A: The bicycle had a substantial technological impact. It is not an exaggeration to say that the bicycle business of the 1890s spawned the automotive industry. During the peak year of production in 1896 some three hundred firms in the United States alone produced nearly two million bicycles, and many of these companies went on to make automobiles using the same highly advanced production systems. Many automotive pioneers, including Henry Ford, started out working with bicycles. And bicycle technology also helped produce the first airplanes. The Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics; they used bicycles for wind tunnel experiments and built the Wright Flyer in their workshop.

Q: What about the social impact of the bicycle?

A: The bicycle changed social life in all sorts of ways--for women in particular it provided a justification to dress more sensibly and a means to travel without supervision. And in the early twentieth century, when cars were still prohibitively expensive, millions of working-class people relied on the bicycle for everyday transportation. This is still the case in the developing world. And of course the bicycle has long provided healthy and fun exercise to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Seems like an interesting topic to consider within the context of Turner's Frontier school of History.

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