A Columbia bicycle advertisement. Private collection

It took awhile for bicycles to catch on in Lewiston.

It probably didn’t help that the Lewiston Evening Journal referred to them as “bone-shakers.”

A Victor bicycle, 1890. Lewiston Evening Journal

Though it is impossible to provide a thorough account of the rise of pedal power in the city, let’s roll through the first decade after the first “wheel man” appeared on the streets of the city in 1880.

By the 1890s, bicycles were no longer such oddities that they merited much attention, save for the occasional accident. They’d become almost commonplace.

The first mention of bicycles in a Lewiston newspaper, as best we can determine, came in 1874 when the Journal mentioned in passing that “twenty persons riding a bicycle” escorted the Prince and Princess of Wales on a visit to the English city of Birmingham.

Four years later, in August 1878, the paper mentioned that “the new-fashioned bicycles have arrived in some cities” in Maine, “though none have appeared here yet.”


In October 1879, the Journal noted, “The bicycle fever, now epidemical in other cities of Maine, has reached Lewiston, and the bicycle dust will probably be quite thick another summer. Several gentlemen have ordered bicycles. A new bicycle, ordinary size, costs about $90.”

That’s the equivalent of about $2,600 today.


The first bicycle rider in the city turns out to have been a visitor.

In February 1880, Dr. George Gammons of Brockton, Massachusetts, gave an exhibition of “fancy bicycle riding” at the Skating Rink in Lewiston. He was supposedly “one of the finest bicycle riders in the country.”

The Eagle The Scorcher, a bicycle advertised in the Lewiston Evening Journal.

That June, the paper commented one afternoon that “the bicycle-rider in red-stockinged uniform is the novelty of the hour.” But it provided no further details.


A year later, in June 1881, came the first indication that cycling was really catching on in the Twin Cities.

“Bicycle accidents are coming along,” the Journal reported. “W.R. Jordan of Auburn carries his arm in a sling. He fell head-first from a bicycle on the pavement and broke his wrist. He is done. Fred Briggs of Auburn performed the same feat and has a bad limp.”

On the Fourth of July in 1881, as part of the city’s celebration at the Lewiston Trotting Park, there were foot races, sack races, horse races and bicycle races. John Hurd, captain of the Boston Bicycling Club, was slated to be on hand to try to go 5 miles in 25 minutes there.

An 1881 advertisement for a circus that included a rider going up and down a 60-foot ramp circling a pole. Lewiston Evening Journal

A little later that same month, the Journal reported that Linn Luce of Waltham, Massachusetts, “performed a bicycle feat that will retire our local bicyclists for a while” by riding from Waltham to a friend’s home in Auburn in four days. He covered 225 miles, the paper said, arriving “considerably fatigued.”

But Auburn was not so easily cowed. By August 1881, it had its own bicycle club. Its first tournament took place on Aug. 4, featuring ex-Mayor Thomas Littlefield, Deacon A.K.P. Jordan, Clark Mitchell “and several other prominent citizens” who “edified the public and barked their shins against the Court Street curbstones,” the Journal reported.

A few days later, a fellow named Stanford, a manager “of the telephone line,” gave a cycling exhibition on Park Street in Lewiston.


In October 1881, the paper said, “The whir of a bicycle startled Alderman John B. Smith’s horse on High Street, Auburn. He ran into the yard of Mr. Charles Dutkins and stove up a wagon that was sitting there. The bicycle rolled out of sight.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 20, 1881, “a young man riding a bicycle on Pine Street accidentally ran into Mr. E.R. Noble.”

“One of the treaders hit Mr. Noble’s hand and made a bad wound,” the story said. “The bicycle was on the sidewalk.”

“Mr. Noble immediately commenced a prosecution, and the relative rights of bicycles and pedestrians will probably be determined in the police court,” the paper said.


To get an idea of how popular bicycling had suddenly become, the attic of City Hall was converted in January 1882 into a biking rink.


The American Rambler bicycle. Lewiston Evening Journal

On April 3 that year, the temperature reached 39 degrees and the Journal recorded that “the bicycles are out again.”

By the end of that week, the Journal carried its first advertisement offering bicycles for sale.

E.I. Thomas of 43 Sabattus St. told potential customers he had bicycles and tricycles, including the Columbia, Harvard and Yale brands.

“I should be pleased to call on anyone who thinks of buying,” Thomas said.

Later in the month, the Journal pondered a scientist’s prediction that the earth’s surface would wear down nearly as level as Harpswell in about 300 million years.

“What fat and flat times those will be for the bicycle,” the paper said.


By the end of the month, the Journal said that “one of Lewiston’s most skillful bicyclists,” Elmer Thomas of Boston’s Pope Manufacturing, was “riding early and late and has vanquished all the arduous hills of Lewiston. He makes, frequently, long trips into the adjacent country and overcomes very long distances with ease and brevity.”

Interest in cycling, the paper said, was on the upswing in Lewiston and a bicycle club was likely to form.

Pope Manufacturing got mentioned soon after as the manufacturer of the Columbia Bicycle. An ad in the Journal said it “combines speed and endurance that no horse can equal, and for pleasure or health is far superior to any other outdoor sport.”

An 1882 advertisement for bicycles in the Lewiston Evening Journal.

“The art of riding is easily acquired and the exercise is recommended by the medical profession as a means of renewing health and strength, as it brings into action almost every muscle of the body,” the ad proclaimed.

On May 6, 1882, the Journal said the roads in the city were in good condition for bicycling but the ones in the suburbs had many “dangerous ruts” so “Lewiston riders of the machine have not ventured on any long trips this season.”

“There are six good bicyclists in the city,” the paper said, “and others are learning.”


“In another month, Lewiston will be able to turn out a respectable bicycle parade,” the Journal said.

It noted that Thomas could go half a mile in two minutes. That’s 15 miles per hour for the mathematically challenged.

One of the city’s “most ardent” cyclists, the paper said, was C.A. Davis, who was getting ready for college in Auburn.

“He rides about town nearly every day in a regular bicycle uniform: shoes, hose, knee-breeches and jacket,” the Journal said.

A couple of days later, the Journal, in the course of advocating for “muscular Christianity,” urged readers to support healthy sports, including baseball, bicycling and boating.

In June 1882, two Auburn men, Albert Smith and Fred Taylor, rode their bicycles from their homes to Gardiner. It took them three hours, the paper said.


Soon after, the Auburn Bicycling Club hit the streets with spiffy new uniforms, regrettably not detailed in the paper.

A New Mail bicycle.  Lewiston Evening Journal


On July 1, 1882, the Journal reported that an old woman with poor eyesight — she’d invited a hydrant to come inside and warm up over the winter — spotted a young man leaning his bicycle up against a tree outside her house.

“Thank goodness!” Mrs. Blinker yelled to her daughter. “One of those fellers has come up our street at last.”

Then she told her daughter to go fetch the scissors.

When she got them, Blinker walked to her front door, held up the scissors and hollered to the young man outside.


“I want you to put a regular, old-fashioned edge on these, young man,” she said. “It’s been a long time since I seen a scissors-grinder up this way.”

As her daughter explained they were looking at a bicycle, the young man rode away on it.

“Blinker returned to the house in disgust,” the Journal said. “She guessed she knew a scissors-grinder when she saw one. But they had new names for everything nowadays. If she lived a few years longer, she supposed her language wouldn’t be understood at all.”


A bicycle shirt advertised by Lewiston’s Blue Store in the Oct. 27, 1883, issue of the Lewiston Evening Journal.

Bicycling was beginning to have an unexpected impact on the town’s economy.

Woodman, Foss & Co., which employed 75 people in Auburn’s Roak Block, was churning out “fancy flannel shirts with laced fronts, ornamented with blue and red cord and embroidery” in November 1881. Known as “Bicycle” shirts, they were selling well.


By the following summer, the hot new clothing for men was the bicycle shirt.

The Journal described it as “bright-colored flannels with gay cords” that made for “a very dressy undress costume.”

They came in many sizes and cost between $1.50 and $3, the paper said, with “many of the common sort of bicycle shirts” manufactured in Auburn.

In mid-October, the paper claimed “the latest thing in gentlemen’s ties is the bicycle tie. It has a lacing like that worn on the bicycle shirt.”

A year later, the paper told readers that local shoe factories were experiencing “a great rush” of business.

“Immense orders for baseball, tennis and bicycle shoes are coming in,” it said. “One of our manufacturers says he is unable to fill all his orders. Let the boom boom!”



On Sept. 29, 1882, members of the Auburn club headed to the State Fair in Lewiston for a race. Six riders dressed in dark pants, white shirts “and wearing the nobby bicycle hat,” created “a little breeze of excitement” among fairgoers, the Journal said.

“The boys looked finely and rode well,” the paper said the next day. At the first turn, a rider identified as Willis broke a pedal “and was thrown” but not injured.

A bicycle race in Boston in 1886. Harper’s Weekly

“Taking all things into consideration, the race was a good one,” the Journal said, and likely convinced fair overseers to make it a regular part of the annual event. Someone named Moore came in first.

But that wasn’t the only account of the race the Journal ever published.

Eight years later, looking back on the contest, it “was a most amusing not to say ludicrous affair.”


The Journal said only half of the six racers managed to finish the mile-long competition.

Moore won by a quarter of a mile, it said, though it initially looked like Bert Willis, a grain dealer, would win easily.

“He waltzed up from fourth position to second before reaching the first turn of the ring, and amidst great enthusiasm of the grandstand, was leaning far out over the handlebars and racing for blood with the champion Moore for first place,” the Journal recalled.

With both bicycles right beside each other, “Willis saw the chance to make a spurt and win the race,” the paper said.

“He came down on the right pedal with all his weight,” it said. “Snap went the pedal pin!”

“The small wheel flew into the air and Willis flew like a rocket toward the blue ether, and turning a complete double somersault landed on his face in the dust,” the paper said.


“Everyone thought that Willis had broken his neck, but he soon emerged from the dust without a scratch or a hurt, only that brand new bicycle suit was sadly hurt,” the Journal said.

It said Moore somehow lifted his 50-inch wheel over Willis’ prone body.

Another of the racers also “took a header” and wound up with a sprained wrist. A third just didn’t make it to the finish line because he got too tired to continue, the paper said.

Looking back, the Journal said the results of the race “had a tendency to check” enthusiasm for bicycling.

At the time, though, the Journal mentioned that the Auburn club might create a 5-mile bicycling race “that for interest will surpass anything ever witnessed in Maine sports.”

A Psycho bicycle. Lewiston Evening Journal



In September 1882, Willie Perham of Paris, the son of a former governor, rode his bicycle from Oxford County to Orono to go to college. It took him three days.

On Nov. 20, as the temperatures grew ever colder, the Journal said that “the bicycle fraternity of Lewiston and Auburn will soon lay aside their knickerbocker for this season and assume the garb of private citizens.”

A Columbia bicycle. Lewiston Evening Journal

In June 1883, they had a 10-mile race at the fairgrounds between a bicyclist and a horse. The horse won easily, crossing the finish line in 52 minutes, a mile and a half ahead of the cyclist.

A circus came to town that month that featured Leonati of Milan, who could, it was said, race a bicycle up and down a spiral elevated roadway 60 feet high. The Great Forepaugh Show featured the scene in its advertising.

That fall, the paper reported that a Bates student had worn out 13 pairs of pants over summer break trying to learn to ride a bicycle.

The Journal reported that “a tall, graceful bicyclist, dressed in a neat-fitting, blue bicycle suit, was seen crossing the Grand Trunk railroad bridge” over the Androscoggin River, “where a slight error in his steering would have sent him down many feet” into the water.


“Not satisfied with this, he went back and forth several times for the benefit of the crowd which had collected, riding with his arms folded, sitting on the side of the bicycle, putting his feet over the handles and finally laying out straight, all the time going with the speed of a trotting horse,” the paper said.

“The fellow is a fine rider and is evidently a stranger here,” the Journal said.

In the winter of 1884, Lewiston approved a request from F.B. Parker of Boston and H.B. Wardwell of Auburn to erect a building on the corner of Pine and Park streets “to be used as a roller skating and bicycle rink,” the Journal said.

Soon after, the paper reported that tandem bicycles were now “all the rage.”

A Heath’s tandem bicycle. Lewiston Daily Sun

But “all the rage” then must have been a little different than it is today.

In 1890, the Journal reported that a year before, it was “doubtful if more than 25 bicycles were owned in Lewiston and Auburn.”



A drawing in the Lewiston Evening Journal of a bicyclist in Lewiston in 1893.

But things were looking up.

In May 1890, the paper said there were at least 80 bicycles in the two cities and more on the way.

The Journal described it as “this season’s boom” in interest in bicycling in Lewiston and Auburn.

Advertisers must have agreed because one spring issue contained ads for more than a dozen different varieties of bikes, from the “New Mail” for ladies to the “Warwick Perfection.”

A sign of the growing popularity of bicycling is that people began stealing them.


In May 1895, somebody swiped a $75 Pine Tree Bicycle wheel that had been set against the curbing in front of Doten’s jewelry shop on Lisbon Street.

The police snagged the thief a few hours later in a park.

“It is now as dangerous to steal a bicycle as it is to steal a horse,” the Journal said.

When one is taken, it said, “all the men and women who own machines look suspiciously at strangers on wheels till the cycle is found.”

One sure-fire indication that bicycles took off, though, is that by 1895, the city was thinking about taxing them. The state already was.

In the summer of 1895, an assessor at City Hall told the Lewiston Daily Sun that bikes wouldn’t be taxed that year but perhaps they would be in 1896.

The assessor who proposed to begin taxing bikes seemed to have more than tax revenue in mind. He told the paper that cyclists weren’t following the rules of the road.

“They frighten horses by not keeping well over on the right side,” the assessor griped.

Horses are largely gone from Maine roads these days. But bicyclists? They’re still around.

A men’s Giant bicycle, 1890.  Lewiston Evening Journal

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