Early Portland Bicycle History

A lot of us know a thing or two about Portland's more recent bike history, from the passing of the Bike Bill in 1971 to our current push for Platinum status. But what about those early years, from the 1880s to the 1920s? The bicycle was still a fairly new, innovative transportation tool and judging from maps like this one, Portland had a thriving Wheelmen Club and Good Roads Movement.

The Oregon Historical Society has a manuscript collection documenting Oregon transportation history, including bicycles, from 1850 - 2000. I haven't gone to check this collection out, but I plan to. There is also a file on Fred T. Merrill, an early bicycle advocate who owned bike shops and opened a race track here in Portland. There are also maps from the 1970s and some older photographs, but not too much else (judging from the library catalog search I conducted; but the librarians will be much more helpful) that is cataloged specifically with the keyword or subject "bicycle." We'll have to dig a little deeper...

I recently received a phone call from a Portlander who was related to Robert McDonald Tate. While that might not be a household name, at the turn of the century Tate ran a bicycle shop in downtown Portland. While he purportedly invented the kickstand, another inventor beat him to the patent office. However, Tate did earn a patent for a new device that attached the handlebars to the frame. His invention made its way into Scientific American. These are the stories I want to hear about.

This might be an interesting read: The First Ten Years: A History of the Portland Wheelmen Touring Club, by Joe H. Heidel. It is also part of the OHS collection. People write the greatest books! Hey, we've got a book about Portland's bridges, why can't we have one about our bike clubs? From what research I've done, cyclists were a colorful bunch in those early years (and many keep that colorful tradition alive today), and deserving our attention.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am still and regularly surprised to see Joe H. Heidel's name pop up in unexpected places and read your article with great interest. I met Joe in 1976 after he had just returned from a trip cross country on the Bike Centennial Trail. We built my first 'real' bike in 1979 from the frame up, sadly that one was stolen 2 yrs later. But we built a second one which I still ride today.
I am also still holding on to his Super Mitsutani hanging in the garage which he had repainted in the late '80 by Virginia Church, active bicyclist, author, bike shop owner and now artist. Sadly, being of German ethnicity, Joe was very sparsam, and constantly told that he needed to let the paint cure, therefore, he never rode it before he died in 1993.
Well, this was more than I had intended to tell you- but yet again, thank you for you mentioning him on the web.
Ute Munger