History of Cycling in Illinois Focus of Lunch and Learn

Bicycling was the most popular sport in America from 1890 until 1930, and cycling had a direct impact on social progress in race, class and gender.

Illinois Wesleyan University Information Literacy Librarian Chris Sweet will explore this largely forgotten history, particularly Illinois’ importance as home to several bicycle manufacturers. Sweet will present “The History of Cycling in Illinois” May 14 as part of the Lunch-and-Learn series offered in partnership by McLean County Museum of History, Illinois Wesleyan and Collaborative Solutions Institute.

Sweet is currently working on a scholarly history of cycling in Illinois and will discuss some of his preliminary findings during the presentation. In a blog post, Sweet writes that cycling’s popularity as a sport around 1900 was rivaled only by baseball. “Bicycle racers were well-paid celebrities and races routinely attracted thousands of spectators. The social elite were members of cycling clubs with private clubhouses.”

Yet cycling’s popularity cut across class lines. Sweet writes that the Memorial Day weekend Pullman Road Races in Chicago in the 1880s were reported to have attracted 100,000 spectators. And in terms of equality, the bicycle gave women “a greater measure of independence and contributed to important advances” in women’s rights. In addition, “a few great early bicycle racers were African Americans who advanced racial equality through sport,” Sweet writes.

The session begins at 12:10 p.m. in the Governor Fifer Courtroom, McLean County Museum of History. Attendees are encouraged to bring a brown-bag lunch to the free event.


By Mallika Kavadi ’15

A 10-man bicycle (circa 1900). Photo courtesy of  chicagology.com

A 10-man bicycle (circa 1900). Photo courtesy of chicagology.com

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