Library of Congress Historical Cycling Photos

Julia Obear, 1922 bicycle messenger

The U.S. Library of Congress is a treasure trove of historical data.  Much of the information stored there (which is technically part of the deep web) is copyrighted.  But, periodically the Library releases images and other information that is “Free to Use and Reuse”.  Recently the Library added a small batch of cycling images to this category.  Some of these free images pose questions.  In the above photo, Ms.Obear, a cycling messenger for the National Women’s Party, is astride a traditional diamond-framed bike, with wide drop bars, large wheels, and no apparent rim brakes.

In the above photo you can see that this cyclist is riding a fixed gear machine, sans any rim brakes on the front or the rear.  There is twine run between the two ends of the handlebar (why?) and this cyclist is wearing some stylish cycling couture, with comfortable low heeled shoes.  The large chainring and small cog at the rear wheel makes it seem that this bicycle was set up for training.  One must remember that in these early days of cycling, huge gears were more the norm, and cyclists would typically dismount to ascend steep hills.  Were these cyclists stronger than their modern day counterparts?

1942 Washington DC family out on a ride.

Another interesting photo in the Library of Congress’ free archive is this 1942 photo of a Washington D.C family out on a cycling adventure.  The child is astride a substantial looking kids’ trike, and her parents are riding American cruiser style bikes of this era.  I have to wonder where that little girl is today, and if she is still alive and still riding.

Fast forward to the 1970’s and we have Hertz getting into the biz of bicycle rentals.  A precursor to bike share?  The outermost bike at the lower left of the photo is a Gitane, equipped with centerpull brakes and downtube shifters.

1934 Argentinian tandem cyclists

The above photo depicts a pair of cyclists who started out in Buenos Aires in 1934 on a tandem machine, pictured above, who arrived in the U.S. two years later, alive and well.  The vintage tandem has rim brakes, front and rear, with the captain’s levers installed on the top of the upright bars.  It looks like there are two chain rings up front, but it’s hard to tell if there is a rear derailleur.  Either way, this journey is impressive.

Don’t try this at home!

If you are going to ride down a stairway, maybe first you should try to source a bike with a huge rear wheel.  That is probably what made the above feat possible. There are many other free to share images at the Library of Congress, and not just in the category of cycling.  I hope you have enjoyed these images, and for more, look here.