Madison's Past


Public Programs

Historical Research



Order Form

Site Map


only search HMI

Bicycles on Mendota Drive

Bicycles on Mendota Drive (1898)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-59895

End of Bicycles

A century ago, on March 28, 1906, the Wisconsin State Journal announced the demise of the bicycle.

“The Bike Almost A ‘Has Been.’ The palmy days of bicycling are past. The time when the wheel was the chief source of amusement and exercise has gone and for good. The bicycle has ceased to be a fad and is a vehicle. Where once the streets were crowded with wheels they have become so few as to be a curiosity. The practical passing of the bicycle closes a big page in Madison’s industrial life.”

Madison bicycling had boomed in the 1890s. At one time a few dozen firms in the city were handling wheels either exclusively or as a side line. There was one good-sized factory in operation, headed by Dan Warner, and wheels were more common than buggies. Among the early bicycle dealers were Harry Hull, W. A. Taylor, Chandler B. Chapman, and Benjamin W. Park.

Park, who lived from 1865 to 1944, was Madison’s most famous wheelman. He often rode 100 miles per day in the era before paved roads, and once 200. He was the recognized endurance rider of Madison. His father, William J., was a book and music store pioneer on King Street. They jointly ran a bicycle store on State Street during the 1890s. In September 1908 Benjamin’s son Hank rescued Nellie Burns, a maid at the Wayne Ramsay cottage in Maple Bluff, who was being attacked by a man on Woodward Road. Fittingly enough, he came to her aid on a bicycle.

Around the turn of the century, the craze for bicycles subsided suddenly, due in large part to the rise of the automobile. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, “the men who were at one time studying the problems of cycling are now working over autos.” The factory went out of business, and dealers sold out their stock at whatever price they could get. In 1906 the only bicycle dealers remaining in town were Small & Stearns and Louis Schoelkopf. There were an estimated 1,000 bicycles in the city, averaging around $40 each. In comparison, motorcycles cost $140. There were only six of them in Madison, two owned by locals and four by UW students).

Today, 14 bicycle dealers are listed in the phone book.

Mark Gajewski