A peek into our collections, one object at a time

Columbia Light Roadster High-Wheel Bicycle

March 20, 2012

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Columbia Light Roadster High-Wheel Bicycle, 1886
National Museum of American History

What comes to mind when thinking about spring—taking the bike out for a long ride? March 20 marks the first day of spring this year. This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates the spring season with an original 1886 Columbia Light Roadster high-wheel bicycle.

Sold originally for approximately $135, this bicycle was made by the Pope Manufacturing Co., the first company to manufacture bicycles in the U.S. This bicycle was available with seven sizes of front wheel, from 47 to 59 inches, and two sizes of rear wheel, 16 or 18 inches. This example is fitted with a 60-spoke, 53-inch front wheel, and a 20-spoke, 18-inch rear wheel.

This group photo shows cyclists in one of America’s first organized biking tours. The first rider is Charles E. Pratt, first president of the League of American Wheelmen, a national membership organization for cyclists. The riders are lined up outside Readville, Mass., in 1879.

Established in 1889, the Smithsonian’s cycle collection has 60 velocipedes, high-wheel bicycles and safety bicycles. These items reflect the technological developments and popularity of biking beginning in the late 19th century.

These items are two of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. They are not currently on display. For more info about them, visit the museum’s website.

To view bicycle advertisements and catalogs from the late 1800s, visit the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ website.