Check out these Child Bike Messengers from the Library of Congress

I’ve been poking around the “Free To Use” section of the Library of Congress website and it’s pretty cool. Lots of old photos, which are available for use and enjoyment, royalty free. So I started looking for bicycle-related shots for this bicycle-related site and found tons of interesting stuff. Like this…03892v

The Title reads… Curtin Hines. Western Union messenger #36. Fourteen years old. Goes to school. Works from four to eight P.M. Been with W[estern] U[nion] for six months, one month delivering for a drug store. “I learned a lot about the ‘Reservation’ while I was at the drug store and I go there some times now.” Location: Houston, Texas.

Whaaaa? Let’s filter this a bit…

Digging deeper I learn that the photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine, was instrumental in changing the child labor laws back at the 1900’s. After stints documenting arrivals at Ellis Island and working conditions in Pittsburgh, PA, Hines was tasked by the National Child Labor Committee with documenting child labor conditions around the country. He did this from 1911 to 1916, approximately.

The Masters of The Universe knew that reform was coming, and were already ignoring existing labor laws, so the risks were high for Hines. Hines had to disguise himself and snuck into factories where child labor was taking place. If he were caught he might face physical recrimination.03757v

Earle Griffith and Eddie Tahoory, working for the Dime Messenger Service. They said they never knew when they were going to get home at night. Usually work one or more nights a week, and have worked until after midnight. They said last Christmas their office had a 9 yr. old boy running errands for them, and that he made a great deal of money from tips. They make about $7 a week and more, sometimes. Said “The office is not allowed to send us into the red light district but we go when a call sends us. Not very often.” Location: [Washington (D.C.), District of Columbia].


Messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company. Said fifteen years old. Exposed to Red Light dangers. Location: Waco, Texas.

Is that a pipe in his mouth? Also note stylish seat position.


Marion Davis, Messenger #21 for Bellevue Messenger Service. Fourteen years old. “Been messenger, off and on, for two years. Not supposed to go to the Reservation under sixteen years, but I do just the same. The boss don’t care and the cops don’t stop me.” Location: Houston, Texas.

Hine’s ghostly presence blows my mind.


Danville Messengers. The smallest boy, Western Union No. 5 is only ten years old, and is working as extra boy. He said he was going to be laid off as the manager told him he was too young, but an older messenger told me the reason was that the other messengers were having him put off because he cuts into their earnings. See Hine report on Va. messengers for data about the tallest boy. Location: Danville, Virginia.


Percy Neville in the heart of the Red Light district. Just come out of one of the houses with message (which see in his hand). He said gleefully “She gimme a quarter tip.” See also Hine report on Louisiana Messengers. Location: Shreveport, Louisiana.

The National Child Labor Committee collection contains more than 5,100 photographic prints and 355 glass negatives, given to the Library of Congress in 1954 by Mrs. Gertrude Folks Zimand,  chief executive of the NCLC. Here are 64 taken by Hine.


Racing in the Delaware Valley, Looping the Past into the Present

By Jessie Bird

“Racing: A Need for Speed”- an emotion that we’ve all felt and the title of a recent exhibit at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA. This exhibit followed the evolution of this need for speed from footraces to horse races to bicycle racing to motor racing, with a special insight into local Bucks County and Delaware Valley history. Artifacts, photographs, stories, and some interactive displays steered the visitor through the exhibit to see how each iteration of racing has built on previous generations. Have you ever raced the Philly Phlyer road race that happens every spring and thought about the shape and history of the course? Probably not when you’re facing heavy winds and just trying to hold on to someone’s wheel, but in this exhibit, you could see where this race borrows part of its course from 1920’s auto-racing in the same area. As I walked through this exhibit with Davey Dawson, a pro-cyclist for Delaware Valley’s own Team Skyline (a different and helpful perspective to add to my experience), we started to see how the races and rides that we know and love today evolved from a rich racing history in the area.


It turns out that the Belmont Plateau is not only the urban mountain biker’s best friend but used to be known for its horse races. One placard in the exhibit quotes a local newspaper from 1881 about the excitement surrounding a particular horse at the Thursday night Belmont race. Mountain bikers resumed the Thursday night racing tradition with their new mechanical steeds in 1989 and continue to shred into the present day. Photos of the Tour of Somerville (New Jersey) from 1964 prompted Davey to share his experience coming in top 10 in that same race this year. The Tour of Somerville started in 1940 and is still considered one of the most prestigious races in the area today.

Tour Of Somerville race trophy, Center.

Tour Of Somerville race trophy, Center.

However, some artifacts of the exhibit remain in the past, for better or worse. The text panel introducing the “Bicycle Racing” section laments the quick rise and long decline of the American cycling craze. In the now industrial wasteland of South Philadelphia near I95, there existed the thriving Point Breeze Park Velodrome that disappeared along with the waning revenues generated by cycling.

point breeze velodrome

point breeze velodrome

However, I felt less disappointed to see other artifacts stay in the past. No matter how beautiful the welding is on an 1868 Velocipede, I’m glad that the industry has developed lighter alloys and designs that bring us beyond the “boneshakers” of yore.



For a fun mixing of past and present, the museum mounted a mini-high wheel in a gold sprint type set-up and challenges visitors to test their speed. I asked Davey to be the guinea pig and comedy ensued as his pro-cyclist legs almost torqued the museum display out of its platform.

davey high wheel

Overall the exhibit flows well and showcases the underlying human desire for speed and entertainment that gives runners, equestrians, cyclists, and drivers something in common. Each sport has built off of the other as technology advances and human limits push further and further. The exhibit ended with a bang on September 9th, the same day as the Bucks County Classic. If you’re in the area I highly recommend checking out the cycling events and making some time for the incredible Mercer Museum and all of its exhibits.

A board game.

A board game.


Vintage Velo: 1892 Elliot Hickory

By Jeff Archer

In the late 1880’s, chain drive revolutionized the bike industry. Previously, the cranks were attached directly to the wheel such as on the 1885 Columbia ordinary (Bicycle Times Issue #8). With the ordinary bikes, the only way to go faster was to ride a larger diameter wheel, which made for a more perilous ride. The chain, running on different sized sprockets, allowed a return to normal sized wheels, which lowered the center of gravity and made the bikes safer to ride. They were marketed as “safety bicycles” and since this bike has non-pneumatic tires, it would be classified as a hard tired safety. The ordinary bikes were mostly very similar to each other since the design was constrained by the large, typically 48- to 60-inch wheel. With smaller wheels, the designs were much more varied.


One such design was produced by the Elliot Hickory Company. This bike featured a 31-inch rear wheel and 25-inch front wheel with a step-through frame design. Originally, the frame was marketed as a unisex design but Elliot also sold a traditional diamond frame for men. Since the safety bikes were new to the market, there weren’t the standardized parts like we see today. You didn’t buy off-the-shelf parts to assemble into a bike.

Unique parts can be found in almost every area of this bike. The wheels use wagon wheel technology with hickory rims, spokes and hubs. The framework aft the crank is also constructed from hickory. The lower chain stays would flex giving a more comfortable ride on the wagon-rutted “roads” of the day. The built-in hickory fender is also the sole support for the seat mast assembly which again would absorb vibration. The rear spoon brake is operated by a small chain running inside the frame which runs over a series of rollers inside the stem, head tube and frame. Since the chainstays are a fixed length, the crank assembly has built in adjusters to remove the slack from the chain.


Many of these features show up later with more advanced materials. Hickory becomes carbon fiber, internal chains become internal cables/hoses and the crank adjusters become an eccentric bottom bracket. Just a few examples of current features based on century-old designs.





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