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Bicycling in Plainfield
A Brief History

1897

The City of Plainfield has enjoyed a long history of bicycling. After the introduction of the safety bike in 1885, it became a fashionable pastime sport for both men and women.  Earlier bicycles such as the high wheeler were considered hazardous. The high wheeler, later known as a "penny-farthing," had a small rear wheel and a much larger front wheel that enabled faster speeds.

In Plainfield, clubs were very popular.  The African-American community established the Victor Wheelmen of Plainfield in October 1893, with the Daily Press announcing, “Good luck attend them, and reward their efforts with success!”

In 1894 the Crescent Wheelmen built a third of a mile clay and gravel court located on the corner of Randolph Road and Hillside Avenue.  On the day of the opening on June 4, 1894, 1300 people (from all over the tri-state area) came to the new $5000 Crescent Oval.  On the first meet there were 126 competitors according the Daily Press.  According to the Times, "No club in the state has a more representative list of members and none perhaps that is quite so influential in the social, political and business circles."  They even ran their own candidate for Mayor. 

According to ads in local newspapers, the Crescent Wheelmen funded the track and advertised Plainfield as a place to cycle on both the bridle paths and the track.  It is said that visitors would often bring their bicycles on the train.  In 1897 the Crescent Wheelmen met in their clubhouse at 104 West 2nd on the first Tuesday of the month.

1894
Dunham Atlas, 1894.

 


C11527
Photograph by Paul Collier, c. 1900s.

The West End Cycling Club was organized in 1896 for members living in the neighborhood of Hope Chapel.

In September 1898 came an announcement of the formation of the American Wheelman's Club, which was also an African-American club, with at least some of the same members of the Victor Wheelmen.

The Plainfield Cycle Club was another local bicycle club.  By 1914 it was down to four members.

The Queen City Wheelmen was formed on June 4, 1914.  Their headquarters was in the bicycle shop of member George Simon.  In 1916 they voted to buy themselves new orange and black jerseys with “Q.C.W.” on the back and the club’s insignia on the left sleeve.

The Daily Press at one time ran a regular column entitled “Cycling Comment.”  Among other accounts it made announcements such as “Mrs. Whitney Frazee, of West Fifth street, is riding a new Rugby purchased from W. H. Rogers” and “Charles H. Angleman, of West Front street returned today after a bicycle trip to Bedminster.”

Nov51887
Daily Press, 1887.


L1501
Photograph by Reina Lawrence, late 1890s.

Horse carriages and bicycles were common
modes of transport in the late 1800s.

lantern1888
Daily Press, 1888.

 

calendar1900
Plainfield Daily Press, 1901.

The Daily Press also included a Cyclists’ Calendar as part of the newspaper’s masthead.  In it was identified the times of sunrise and sunset and what time riders were required to begin using their bicycle lanterns each day.

L1932
Photograph by Reina Lawrence, late 1890s.

1888
Daily Press, 1888.

C10585
Photograph by Paul Collier, circa 1910s.

Before the development of a more modern bicycle, the rider sat so high above the center of gravity, if the front wheel was stopped short, the entire apparatus flipped over on its front axle. Thus the term "taking a header" came into being.

A young woman and a boy pose with bicycles.

They appear to have exchanged hats for the photograph.

 

roadster1888
Daily Press, 1888.

 

T2043
"Ready for a Labor Day parade - Old Reformed Group / W. Second St. at Madison Ave." Photograph by Guillermo Thorn, circa 1890s.

The Plainfield Lady Cyclists organized in 1892. They met at the home of Miss Belle Butler; Mrs. W. D. Pond was the president.

There were 31 members in the club.

 

Zeisel1914

Bicycles and a horse drawn carriage outside the Plainfield Trust Company bank at 139 East Front Street.

T2058
Photograph by Guillermo Thorn, circa 1890s.

Waverly1896
Daily Press, 1896.

 

The Muhlenberg Hospital Carnival opened in May 1905; it was one of the largest fairs in New Jersey. People came from across the state, and attendance levels reached into the thousands. A grand parade led up to the event, which covered five acres. The carnival boasted over 40 tents and 31 attractions, manned by over 200 employees, all under the glow of nearly 1000 electric lamps.

C10378
Carnival Bikers Loop-the-Loop

Photograph by Paul Collier, circa 1905.

city directory 1910

1888
Daily Press ad, 1888.

10172In 1910 the Plainfield
city directory listed five businesses selling
bicycles—

just above the listings
for blacksmiths and boardinghouses.

Photograph by Paul Collier, c. 1910s.

C10496
Photograph by Paul Collier, c. 1900s.


1893Martin

On July 23, 1913 it was announced that prominent bicycle dealer F.L.C. Martin would be going into bankruptcy.  Considered the “pioneer bicycle firm of the [state],” it had begun selling bicycles in 1889, adding motor vehicles thirteen years later and even making plans to add airplanes at one point.

C10665
Frank L. C. Martin Cycle Co.
Photograph by Paul Collier, circa 1900.

Crescents1897
Daily Press, 1897.

insurance1897
Daily Press, 1887.


The Plainfield Police Department organized a bicycle squad in the 1890s. They spent $11 on bicycle repairs in 1908; the cost rose to $305 in 1913
.

 

Patrolman James A. Saunders, Plainfield's first African-American police officer, poses with his bicycle,
circa 1910. Saunders was a member of the force from 1895 to 1917.

Saunders1920Unknown photographer, circa 1910.

police1905
Plainfield Police Department, 1905.

 

SpencerUndated

Celebrated Plainfield athlete, Freddie Spencer started out as a mechanic's helper in Jack Horner's bike shop. He received his first bicycle from Edward H. Goodwin - the man who would become president of the Goodwin Motor Company. By the early 1920s, Spencer became the American sprint champion of bicycle racing.

By the peak of his career in 1934, he had won 22 six-day bike races in Madison Square Garden, in addition to holding five world records. He was the highest paid athlete in the country at one time, earning over $100,000 a year (more than Babe Ruth). He left racing in 1938, and retired in Rahway, NJ.

Horner1913
Plainfield Daily Press, 1913.

 


C11099
Posing with the family bicycle

Photograph by Paul Collier, circa 1930s-1940s.

 

tandem1897
Renting a tandem bicycle was a fun way
to spend the afternoon, 1897.

C40060

bard1898
Daily Press, 1898.

Sisters with their bicycle,
Photograph by Paul Collier, circa 1930s.

 

C21601
Newsies with their bikes.
Photograph by Paul Collier, circa 1940s.

 

C20909
YMCA Junior Leaders outside of the Y.
Photograph by Paul Collier, 1944.


1949parade
A long day riding in the Plainfield Fourth of July parade.
Photograph by Paul Collier, 1944.


RuthDobson
Plainfielder, Ruth Dobson
Photograph by Jean Mattson, undated.


I52901
Plainfield kids on unicycles
Photograph by Irving Georges, circa 1970s.

 

I50041

Plainfield kids posing with their bicycles
Photographs by Irving Georges, circa 1974-75.

I50042

 

I50064
Mother and daughter with bicycle
Photograph by Irving Georges, circa 1974-75.

 

I50004
Popin' a Wheelie
Photograph by Irving Georges, circa 1970s.

 

I50091 I59632  
Bikes and big wheels
Photograph by Irving Georges, circa 1970s.

I50784
Girls on bikes
Photograph by Irving Georges, circa 1980s.

 

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