Sandburg's Hometown

November 11, 2013

Bicycle Ad - Avery Brothers, Galesburg, IL

Carl Sandburg's Bicycle

By Barbara Schock

By the time Carl Sandburg bought a bicycle to travel from his Lombard University classes to fight daytime fires in Galesburg, the vehicle had changed a great deal from its original conception.

In the early 1800s, British, French and German inventors had developed a two-wheeled contraption pushed by the rider’s feet. It was heavy; didn’t steer well and was slow. Only sporting young men were interested in the conveyance.

Several decades passed before pedals were added, steering improved and pneumatic tires assured the rider’s comfort. By the 1890s the safety bicycle had appeared and the craze of bicycle riding swept around the world.

The advertisement above from The Daily Republican-Register of April, 1893, shows the style of bikes that were common at the time. Avery Brothers & Brooks sold several excellent lines of bicycles. A new bike cost more than a hundred dollars, so renting was probably a profitable sideline for the company.

After serving in the Spanish-American War, Carl Sandburg was offered a year’s free tuition at Lombard University. With help from one of his buddies in Company C, Illinois National Guard,, he was appointed as a call man at the fire station on South Prairie Street. He slept at the fire house, ate breakfast at home prepared by his mother and went to classes in Latin, English and other subjects.

If the fire whistle blew during class, he called the fire station by telephone to find out the location of the fire, then jumped on his bike to go help at the emergency. It didn’t happen often enough to bother his professors or classmates.

The bicycles of the 1890s gave every rider a freedom they had never known before. Men and women could travel longer distances even though the roads were poor. People thought of ways to use the vehicles: to race, to go on picnics, to go sightseeing, to visit friends who lived some distance away.

For women, the bicycle meant wearing fewer clothes. Their long skirts could become entangled in the spokes of the wheels, so shorter skirts came into vogue. Some young women buckled their skirts around their ankles. The bloomer (loose pantaloons) were worn by some young women. They may have looked silly, but they were safer.

The best part for women cyclists was that they could travel on their own. They didn’t have to be escorted by a man. Francis Willard, President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), even wrote a book about learning to ride. She considered the bicycle a metaphor for increased self-control by women.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013  Lace Curtains 
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity