1890s Bicycles and Cameras


The scene in Tehran depicted in one of our illustrations this week was sent to us by Mr. John Foster Fraser, who has ridden there on his bicycle, accompanied by two friends, Mr. S. Edward Lunn and Mr. F.H. Lowe. These three cyclists have ridden right across Europe, through the Crimea, over the Caucasus into Asia. Everywhere they have excited the keenest interest. Though they have passed through some of the wildest country infested with robbers, they have escaped hitherto without harm. They are telling their story month by month in the pages of Travel magazine, and exceedingly interesting is the tale of their exciting experiences. At Tehran they were exceedingly well received, and the Shah took the greatest interest in their journey. On the occasion when the photograph which we reproduce was taken the Shah came across the young men at work with their camera in Tehran, and was curious to have the process explained to him.

To Persia on a Bicycle by John Foster Fraser, 1897


1896 JUSTIN SPITFIRE fitted with KODAK BULLET ‘Model of 1896’ & TRIPOD

With the arrogance of 21st century living, we often assume that modern innovations are also modern inventions. But that’s not necessarily the case. The diamond-frame bicycle we use today was introduced in the late 19th century, and cameras and 3D made their debut even earlier.

Early cameras were clumsy affairs, requiring a tricycle to transport the heavy photographic equipment. But, by the mid-nineties, enthusiasts could buy a portable film-camera without the need for extra equipment, while the introduction of cheap pneumatic tyres made cycling more comfortable and affordable.

At first, these novelties – cycle and camera – represented a profound new freedom, particularly for women. This museum celebrates that first era – up to 1900 – when these two fabulous new inventions combined in an affordable and practical package. This period did not last for very long. With the introduction of Kodak’s Pocket Brownie in 1909, cameras became small enough to carry in a pocket or bag: a specific bicycle-camera outfit was no longer necessary.

But, for a matter of ten years or so, in the same way that computer and smartphone technology has so stimulated the leisure time of early 21st century folk, the CYCLE CAMERA was a wonderful new toy for the enthusiast of the 1890s. Writers such as H.G. Wells were already introducing the world to joys awheel. But now, with a CYCLE CAMERA, a rider need not be a writer or illustrator. He or she could travel independently and instantly record their own experiences on the road.


Samuel Govier was one of the best-known travelling photographers in Cornwall at the turn of the century. He used his bike to transport his leather case of equipment. In this photo, the bicycle was supported by a block underneath his right pedal to maintain a cycling position. It was then removed from the negative. This sort of touching up of photos was popular at the time: horse droppings in the centre of roads were often removed from a negative to give a picture a more aesthetic charm.

Museum for 1890s Cameras & Cycling