Monday, March 20, 2006

A 110 Year-Old Tribute to the Bicycle

In my search for the oldest recorded sound, I discovered that UC Santa Barbara has a wonderful project to preserve old "Wax cylinder" recordings by digitizing them. Hundreds of these recordings are available for you to enjoy online.

I found a cylinder recording, which is between 107 and 110 years old. It's a comedy routine by Cal Stewart (1856-1919) performing his character “Uncle Josh”. In this recording he talks about those “new fangled bicycles” and his exploits trying to ride one.

It turns out that the first popular bicycle was the “High Wheel” bicycle. These became popular with young men in America in 1880 despite the fact that they cost about six-months salary to buy.

This design of bicycle was pretty dangerous. There was no suspension of any kind, and the wheels were made of solid rubber. The reason for the gigantic front wheel was because the bigger the wheel, the smoother the ride and faster the rider could go. Unfortunately is also meant that the rider was higher and falls were more catastrophic. Not to mention the fact that when the High Wheel did hit something, the rear wheel would rotate up, slugging the rider in the back of the head as he was falling forward and his face simultaneously smacked into the street, then, to add insult to injury the handlebars would hook and lock his legs in place forcing him to be stuck against the ground.

It wasn’t until the late 1890’s and early 1900’s that the “safety” bicycle became popular. This is the bicycle design we’re familiar with today.

In a tribute to the extreme street sport of 110 years ago, I recommend that you go to this website and listen to Cal Stewart’s comedy recording while visiting the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum’s history of the bicycle.

Enjoy your trip back in time!


Blogger Dr. Risardo F. Caldas said...

Just as curiosity, the first recorded sound still listenable was recorded in 1878 by Frank Lambert. It is avaiable in

10:39 AM  

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