Throughout its history, the bicycle has often been met with hostility out on the road. In fact, this hostility even predates the automobile. A trip to the New York Times archives reveals that cyclists clashed with horses long before they clashed with cars. It also reveals that, for a brief moment in time, the bicycle very nearly held its own against the motor vehicle. Following are four actual articles from the Times archives which provide insight into the early days of the bicycle, as well as the slightly-less-actual responses they received at the time. I hope we can learn from history:
It was with great dismay that I read your recent article, “A Test Bicycle Case: Shall the Machine Be Allowed In Central Park?,” which contains many spurious reports of bicycle-induced horse-frightenings. Indeed, the central event recounted in the article concerns Mr. Samuel G. Hough, who claims some character called Glass startled his horse, thus causing his buggy to topple and Hough himself to be rendered “utterly helpless.”
As a Christian person of good breeding, I wish it to be known that this Glass fellow is in no way indicative of the sorts of men who operate bicycles. The vast majority of us neither labor under the misapprehension that we are Birdie Munger, nor do we dash about the sidewalks on our bicycles with the heedlessness of Ottoman brigands. Rest assured that the Wheelmen’s Club to which I belong, the “Chicago Wasps,” consists entirely of gentleman, and we would never accept a fellow like Glass. Not only does he comport himself poorly, but his surname also implies that he may be a Jewish person, as does the fact that “he rode the bicycle to save his horse-car fare.” This suggests his recklessness is exceeded only by his avarice, as is characteristic of the denizens of the Red Sea.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hough has taken his misfortune as an opportunity to wrongly decry the bicycle as “the most dangerous thing to life and property ever invented,” when in fact this is far truer of the Jew than it is of the bicycle.
John C. Cumpson
It has been thirteen years since I’ve written, but I am chagrined to find this news-paper once again maligning the bicycle, this time by making light of bicycle-and-rider entanglements in "The War Bicycle."
While I realize the buffoonery herein is intended to be humorous, I’m afraid that in my high-wheeling days I’ve seen too many of my fellow wheelmen lose entire limbs to their spokes in this manner, and I find little comedy in dismemberment. (This is to say nothing of the many riders who have lost their actual manhood, which was mitigated to some extent but not entirely obviated by the widespread practice of fastening it to the trouser leg by means of Prince Albert’s eponymous piercing.) Furthermore, this essay belies its author’s ignorance of the bicycle, since the advent of the safety bicycle with its two wheels of equal size has caused the number of wheel-related severings to fall more quickly than a drunken Swede on a penny-farthing.
I also strongly object to the implication that bicycles would make poor machines of war. I for one dream of a day when bicycles will be used by our nation’s military to bring pain, suffering, and death to the furthest reaches of the globe. Had I not been separated from my own manhood some years ago and consequently rendered ineligible for military service, rest assured I'd be among the first to enlist.
John C. Cumpson
I was greatly pleased to finally find a worthy mention of the estimable pursuit of bicycling in your recent article, “Many Orders Placed For Motor Trucks.” Having attended the motor vehicle exhibition myself, it was a pleasure to see the bicycle luminaries of yesteryear engaged in the noble pursuits of motor vehicle manufacture and sales, as well as to share drunken reminiscences with them afterwards.
As motor cars become more widespread and road conditions improve, surely this will benefit bicyclists as well. I have no doubt that we are on the cusp of a new age in which transport both motor-driven and human-propelled share these better roads. Bicycles and electric cars will certainly be the vehicles of choice in a cleaner, more efficient future. After all, we’ve already rid the roads of horses; once they are also free of musicians, Quakers and anarchists man’s swift, smooth transport will be all but assured.
John C. Cumpson
Dear Mr. Fisher,
I read your letter of March 11th, 1912 in the New York Times with great interest. My father, John C. Cumpson, was both an avid cyclist and a frequent reader of that newspaper. While he held some of the prejudices common to his era, he was also a steadfast advocate of bicycling and a living testament to its health benefits. In fact, he was in excellent physical condition and rode a bicycle right up until his death, which was the result of a physical altercation prompted by an invective he hurled at a Hungarian motorist.
I share your hopes that the bicycle will one day come into its own, and I also long to see who will come to the fore as the dominant manufacturer. I only pray that, whoever this manufacturer is, it is not located in the Orient.