Velocipede Invasion!


An 1869 Velocipede Print from the Library of Congress

May is National Bike Month, and to celebrate I’m presenting a fun—occasionally hilarious–program about the first appearance of the pedal bicycle in Charleston. Back in 1869, when these machines arrived in South Carolina, however, no one called them bicycles. They were velocipedes, a newly-coined Latin term meaning “fast feet.” First created in France in the mid-1860s, velocipedes spread across the globe within a few short years. In 1868 the velocipede appeared in New York, and newspapers across the country took note. Within a year the mania for these people-powered machines had spread south- and westward, as far as New Orleans, St. Louis, and even California. In the spring of 1869, the Charleston newspapers covered the debut of the velocipede as front-page news. It was a curiosity, a technical marvel, and nothing short of a transportation revolution. The press even speculated that these “bi-cycular” machines might facilitate some measure of independence for women (wearing “bi-legular” garments, of course). Suddenly there were velocipede races, velocipede injuries, velocipede clubs, velocipede hats, velocipede schools, and, of course, velocipede rules. Within a few months of their first appearance, the Charleston Police were chasing novice velocipedists off the city’s paved sidewalks, where they threatened pedestrians, and into the unpaved, sandy streets. By the summer of 1869, Charleston obsession with this new machine began to fade, and the city turned its collective attention to baseball and to the baseball riots of 1869. But we’ll save that bat-and-ball tale for another day.

If you’re looking for a fun and stimulating way to celebrate National Bike Month, and you’d like to learn more about the frenetic early days of cycling in Charleston, please join me for this “revolutionary” program:

“The Velocipede Invasion of 1869:

Charleston’s First Bicycles”

Time: Tuesday, May 13th 2014 at 6 p.m.

Place: Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.