The Smithsonian's cycle collection began in 1889 when J. Elfreth Watkins, curator of transportation, accessioned a velocipede. This vehicle was the third wheeled vehicle to be accessioned, having been preceded by a steam locomotive and a horse-drawn carriage. In the late 1890s, two other bicycles were loaned to the museum, but they did not become part of the collection. By 1918, only two more bicycles and two velocipedes were added to the cycle collection.
The material in this tour is mostly based on a published source: the 1974 book Wheels and Wheeling: The Smithsonian Cycle Collection. That book was credited to Smith Hempstone Oliver and Don Berkebile. Oliver published a book on the collection, called Catalog of the Cycle Collection of the Division of Engineering, United States National Museum in 1953. Oliver's work was amended by Don Berkebile and re-published in 1974. At the time of its publication, Wheels and Wheeling: The Smithsonian Cycle Collectiondescribed 53 cycles (including motorcycles) from the National Museum of American History's collection. Janet Davidson condensed and edited some of the materials in this web version, and Greg Kenyon expanded the Object Group in 2016 to include recent acquisitions. It is not a complete record of the bicycle collection, however, because it does not feature all of the bicycles that have been collected since the book was published as some remained in storage and lacked photography.