My Recollections of Old Cleveland
Warren Corning Wick
Bicycles were an early innovation attracting a clientele mainly
of adults rather than children. Bicycles, considered to be the
machines that most efficiently and economically utilized human
energy, had their origins in the early 1800's in Europe. The first
bicycles were made without pedals; one sat on the low seat and
propelled the contraption with his feet.
The first bicycle I remember belonged to my brother, Dudley. He
got his bike in 1890. My father's diary records the fact that
the front wheel was 54 inches in diameter and the small rear wheel
was about a foot high. It had no chains, just a seat, with pedals
affixed to the axle of the huge front wheel. This type of vehicle
was known as the "ordinary" bicycle. In order to get
onto his extremely high bike, brother Dudley found it necessary
to mount it from one of the stone steps on our side porch. My
brother was over six feet tall and, I, as a little boy ten years
younger, felt he was high in the sky, riding on his bike.
Many of the pioneer auto manufacturers first started making bicycles.
Cleveland was a thriving center for the bicycle industry. Bicycle
Shows were held annually in Gray's Armory and among my button
souvenirs are the names of these early manufacturers: Winton,
White, Cleveland, Stearns, Eclipse, Rambler, Warwick, Hoffman,
Ide, Holiday, Gunning, Henley, Crescent & Sherman--all made
I remember the day Father took me to the Winton bicycle factory
on Perkins Avenue and bought me my first bike. The year was 1896;
the color (of the bike) was maroon. I was so small I couldn't
reach the pedals on the men's model, and so had to settle for
the ladies model, with the slanted bar. I rationalized that mortification
by convincing myself this model was of stronger construction.
By the time I got my first bike, it had the two wheels of equal
size and was chain-driven. The type was known as the "safety"
bicycle. I still have my bicycle kerosene lamp, called the "Search
Light." It is made of solid brass, heavily scrolled with
intricate designs. The magnified lens increased the light on the
road ahead. The red and green jeweled windows for the port and
starboard sides easily slid open to allow the lighting of the
wick. My lamp is now a museum piece--over 80 years old.
Learning to ride a bike was as serious an undertaking as later
learning to drive a car! There were several bicycle riding "academies"
where one could go for professional instruction in the art. Davis,
Hunt and Collister was the largest hardware store at the turn
of the century, located at Prospect and Ontario Streets. On the
fourth floor of their establishment was a "cyclerama"--a
huge circular facility where the art of bicycle riding was taught.
The problem with the chain-driven bicycle was that trousers and
skirts were always getting caught; U-shaped clips were worn on
the trousers to avoid this. In the early 1900's the Columbia Bicycle
did away with such exposed chains, introducing the "Columbia
Chainless". It used beveled gears in an enclosed housing.
Bicycle rides and parties were very popular. One physical problem
was finding a street smooth enough to safely ride bikes. Euclid
Avenue, with its beautifully cobblestoned thoroughfare, was a
torment for cyclists. One ideal street was East Prospect Street,
running from East Fifty-Fifth Street to East Eighty-Ninth Street.
It was paved with asphalt, making it smooth and attractive for
cycling events. For the evening rides, kerosene lamps on the bikes
provided the required illumination.