Central Illinois Bicycle Industry Drove 1890's Boom | WGLT

Central Illinois Bicycle Industry Drove 1890's Boom

Jan 7, 2016

While sales are flat, more people are using bikes as transportation and bike shares are popping up around the country. But whatever boom or boomlet is currently underway, it pales in comparison to the bike boom of the late 19th century. And central Illinois contributed more than its fair share to the boom. In the 1890’s, two-thirds of all bikes and bike accessories were produced with in a 150 mile radius of Chicago, which includes Bloomington and Peoria manufacturers.

Chris Sweet is a librarian and historian at Illinois Wesleyan University and is researching bike history as part of his sabbatical project. He’s also a lifelong cyclist and triathlete. He tells WGLT's Mike McCurdy central Illinois was well positioned geographically with a strong manufacturing base to take advantage of a huge interest in cycling in the early days of cycling.

Sweet says bikes for kids came about as a way to expand the market and helped to save the Schwinn company. 

Hear more of the conversation as Sweet and McCurdy talk about competitive racing and some of the characters in central Illinois biking, including Leonard "Baby" Bliss and Thomas Davis, who rode more than 140,ooo miles after he started riding in his late 60s.