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May 21, 1899: Young bicyclists top 10 mph -- and land in jail

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Crime, Transportation Updated: May 22, 2014 - 10:10 PM
 
Bicycling was booming in the 1890s, fueled by improved bike design and demand for cheap transportation. In the wrong hands, however, the new “safety bike” was anything but. Careless young “scorchers” pedaled furiously up and down urban streets, startling horses and pedestrians alike. Newspapers of the era regularly reported collisions that resulted in serious injuries and, on occasion, death. Across the country, bicycle speed limits were established to protect the population. In Minneapolis, the speed limit was 10 mph. And, as you’ll see in the Tribune story below, police were serious about enforcing the law.
 

CAUGHT HIM SCORCHING

 
POLICE CAPTURE THREE YOUNG MEN WHO VIOLATED AN ORDINANCE.
 
They Could Not Resist the Temptation to Indulge in a Spin Along Park Avenue Last Evening.
 
It might have been a picnic party judging from the high spirits of the three lads who were enjoying an expensive ride in the patrol wagon last night.
 
“Scorching again, old man,” cried one of the prisoners, as the patrol wagon turned into lockup alley, and a curious crowd “rubbered” as if their necks would be stretched off.
 
“He certainly was good to me,” said another, and the crowd laughed.
 
But when the iron bars shut out their view, and the youthful trio had nothing but whitewashed walls to gaze at, they began to realize their doom, and the minutes of their imprisonment began to grow into hours, at least so it seemed to them.
 
It was an ideal evening for a spin. Of course it was a little chilly, but then a spurt of a block or two helped to warm the blood. And that asphalt on Park avenue was so tempting. Who  could help but ride fast just a short distance?
 
That is where the boys made a mistake. There was a mounted policeman – that is, he was mounted on a bicycle – watching them, and he could scorch a little himself. While the boys were tearing up the pavement he was after them, and as they slowed up a little for a breathing spell, he cut across them into the curb and they had to come to a stop.
 
“Well, boys, you are my prisoners, so just come along,” said Officer Fred Williamson, as he mopped the perspiration off his forehead and gave his wheel an admiring glance.
 
The policeman and his prisoner walked up Twenty-fourth street to the patrol box at Fifth avenue, and the patrol wagon was called. A crowd of wheelmen had gathered, and they joked both with the officer and the lads.
 
As the last of the trio of alleged scorchers was hustled into the wagon with his wheel, he issued the following challenge to the policeman:
 
 “I’ll bet, officer, I can beat you in a 100 yard dash,” but Williamson was busy by this time cleaning the mud off his machine.
 
On the way to the station the prisoners had a happy time, and they did not mind the “scorching” remarks made by passing bicyclists.
 
The boys gave their names as Frank Gardner, Guy Smith [and] Clarence Hanson, and they will plead to the charge of exceeding the ordinance speed limit of 10 miles an hour. The oldest of the trio is only 18, while the other two are less than 15 years. They belong to good families, but the police use no discrimination when they are after fast riders.
 
“Well, I don’t know how I’m going to get out tonight,” woefully said one of the younger boys. “My folks are all out of town.”
 
NIce rides: A man and a woman showed off their wheels in front of the Wallof house, 2200 Sheridan Ave. S., Minneapolis, in 1898. (Photo courtesy of Hennepin County Library's Minneapolis Collection)

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