Thursday, January 30, 2014

Isaac's Inventive Imagination and the Tricycle

Lady Florence Norman, 1916 London
When a friend shared a photograph of Lady Florence Norman riding to work in London in 1916 on her motor scooter, I thought immediately of Isaac.  Although he was not alive when this suffragette received the scooter as a birthday present from her husband, the journalist and Liberal politician, Sir Henry Norman, Isaac was alive during what is considered the Golden Age of bicycling, or the era of the Bicycle Craze. 

Ad from the County Capital
Because bicycles have existed as long as the memories of most living people, we may tend to assume they were invented much earlier than they, in fact, were.  Unverified history may suggest bicycle-like inventions much earlier, but the first practical 2-wheeled bicycles resembling today's bikes date back only to the 1800s.  Therefore, they were a fairly new invention in Isaac Werner's time.  In their early years bicycles were regarded as more of a toy for adventuresome young men, too dangerous for practical use.  As paving of roads and sidewalks increased and bicycle safety improved, bicycles became more popular.

When Isaac Werner read in the newspaper about a respectable lady riding a tricycle in New York's Central Park, he began to consider the design for a tricycle suitable
Cartoon from Punch
for the prairie.  He recorded in his journal his design, altering the wheels and using knuckle joints in the manufacture.  He not only described the details of his invention in his journal, he also described the image he pictured of ladies riding their prairie bicycles to visit their neighbors, sparing them from the effort of hitching horses to wagons or buggies each time they needed to go for a visit.

[Caption for cartoon reads:  Gertrude:  "My dear Jessie, What on earth is that bicycle suit for!"  Jessie:  "Why, to wear, of course."  Gertrude:  "But you haven't got a bicycle!"  Jessie:  "No, but I've got a sewing machine!"]  Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Isaac's invention never went further than his imagination and the notes in his journal, but bicycles did become popular with the ladies.  Susan B. Anthony said, "I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."  WCTU president, Frances Willard learned to ride late in life and praised the benefits of cycling, giving her own bicycle the name "Gladys."  (See "Before Carrie Nation--Prohibition in Kansas," blog archives of 9-13-2012.)

Not everyone appreciated the sight of women astride bicycles.  The story is told of male undergraduates at Cambridge University showing their displeasure about women being admitted to the university by hanging a woman in effigy in the town square.  To express further disgust with the behavior of modern women of 1897, the female effigy was astride a bicycle!

The fact that Isaac approved of women riding bicycles is no surprise.  His journal often expresses his approval and encouragement of the liberation and advancement of women.

[Welcome to all of you now visiting my blog through the link in The Pratt Tribune each week.]

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