Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 13

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 in Cleveland.

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.

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