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La Belle Epoque: Bicycle Posters

 

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LA BELLE EPOQUE

The poster revolution of the late 19th century transformed the city of Paris, created an obsession with colour lithography among leading artists and shaped the future of printmaking, poster design and advertising. More than a century later we are still captivated by these images.

The years between 1871 and 1914 represent one of the most fascinating periods in European history. it was an era characterized by optimism, peace at home and in Europe, new technology and scientific discoveries. The peace and prosperity in Paris allowed the arts to flourish, and many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition. A joy of life awoke in all social classes, and with that a desire for new, extraordinary, sensational things. People were seized by the feeling of a new start into better times and a sense of freedom and happiness prevailed.

History’s greatest transformation of art and poetry from traditional to modern occurred during the Belle Epoque. Art in every genre prospered like never before. In Paris, a recognizable artistic style emerged in numerous forms, most notably in posters advertising goods and entertainment. Food, beverages, bicycles, and theatrical performances were just some of the subjects of these now famous Parisian works. The cycle industry contracted to as well as benefitted from this Golden Age. With a boom in cycle sales, funds became available for advertising. In America and Great Britain, most of this revenue was channelled toward magazine adverts, while in France glorious – and somewhat racy – posters emerged.

Artists of the 1890s noted for designing bicycle posters include Henri Boulanger (pseudonym Henri Gray), Jean de Palealogue (known as ‘PAL’), Georges Massias, Franciso Tamango, Georges Favre and Fernand Fernel.

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JEAN DE PALEALOGUE (PAL): 1899 LIBERATOR

cycles liberator poster copy

Jean de Paleologu (or Paleologue), born in 1855 in Bucharest, Romania, was a painter and illustrator who became one of the best-known poster artists, using the pseudonym ‘PAL.’ He trained in England, returned to Romania to attend a military academy, and then visited London several times before relocating to Paris. He worked there until 1900, when he moved to America. He died in Florida in 1942.

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FERNAND FERNEL: 1900 GEORGES RICHARD

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Fernel was born in Brussels, Belgium, around 1872. He made his name not only as an painter but also as a poster artist, humorist and illustrator of children’s books, including Mes Joilies Poupes in 1900. He died in 1934.

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GASTON NOURY: 1898 GLADIATOR

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Gaston Noury (born in 1866) was a French painter, poster artist, illustrator, cartoonist and theatrical costume designer, working in Le Havre and Paris, where he settled around 1889. His prolific output covered a wide variety of subjects and his images were used for posters, books, postcards, songbooks, genre scenes and fashion plates. He provided illustrations for magazines such as La Chronique parisienneSaint-NicolasGil Blas illustréJournal amusant (1889-1890), and Les Hommes d’aujourd’hui

Around 1910, Noury designed costumes for the Moulin Rouge and Ambassadeurs in the Montmartre district. The costumes are both childishly innocent and provocative – floral designs and fabrics with seductive cutouts showing legs, midriff, cleavage and sometimes bare breasts. The drawings combine pencil and watercolour washes, portraying young women with stylised faces and delicate hands and feet.

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HENRI BOULANGER (HENRI GRAY): 1895 HURTU

Henri Gray was a pseudonym of Henri Boulanger, born in 1858 in France. (He died in 1924). He used the pseudonym of H. Gray to sign his poster designs. For more racy subject matter, he signed his work with the pseudonym of Orivois (meaning spicy). He began his career designing magazine illustrations and covers. He turned to designing posters during the ‘poster craze’ in Paris during the 1890s. He is particularly known for his bicycle posters. Boulanger was one of the most prolific of the poster designers; he also created satirical caricatures. Hurtu was one of his regular employers.

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HENRI BOULANGER (HENRI GRAY): 1903 BRILLANT

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The famous poster below was designed for Cycles Brillant by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre in 1923. A fusion of cubism and surrealism, an original lithograph from 1925 sold at Christie’s in November 2010 for £23,750. These days, Brillant posters are better known than the bicycles!

 

HENRI BOULANGER (HENRI GRAY): 1899 BICYCLETTE PHEBUS

 

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JEAN DE PALEALOGUE (PAL): 1897 CLEMENT & CIE

 

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1904 LE GLOBE

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GEORGES MASSIAS: 1895 GLADIATOR

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The Massias Gladiator poster above is one of the most famous of the early designs, setting a style of naked women with flowing hair alongside gent’s bicycles.

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1900 RALEIGH X FRAME

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Let’s Have a Ride on your Bicycle

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LET’S HAVE A RIDE ON YOUR BICYCLE

1830: EAGLE TAVERN

The Eagle Tavern is situated in an appropriate locality in the City-road, not far from a lunatic asylum, and contiguous to a workhouse. From time immemorial the Cockneys have hastened thither to enjoy themselves. Children are taught to say-

“Up and down the City-road,
In and out the Eagle,
That s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.”

And the apprentice or clerk, fresh from the country, and anxious to see life, generally commences with a visit to the Grecian Saloon – Eagle Tavern. As a rule, I do not think what are termed fast men go much to theatres. To sit out a five-act tragedy and then a farce is a bore which only quiet old fogies and people of a domestic turn can endure; and even where, as in the Grecian Saloon, you have dancing, and singing, and drinking added, it is not the fast men, but the family parties, that make it pay. There you see Smith, Brown, Jones, and Robinson, with their respective partners and the dear pledges of their well-regulated loves. They come early, sit out Jack Shepherd with a resolution worthy of a better cause, listen to the singing from the Music Hall, return again to witness the closing theatrical performances, and enjoy all the old stage tricks as if they had not heard them for the last fifty years. These worthy creatures see a splendour in the Grecian Saloon which I do not. Then there are the juvenile swells. Anxious mothers in the country, fearing the contaminations of London and the ruin it has brought on other sons, lodge them in remote Islington, or Hoxton, still more remote. It is in vain they do so. The Haymarket may be far off, but the Grecian Saloon is near; and the young hopefuls come in at half-price, for six- pence, and smoke their cigars, and do their pale ale, and adopt the slang and the vices of their betters with too much ease. And then there are the unfortunates from the City-road, with painted faces, brazen looks, and gorgeous silks; mercenary in every thought and feeling, and with hearts hard as adamant. God help the lad that gets entangled with such as they!

The Night Side of London – The Eagle Tavern, by J. Ewing Ritchie, 1858

Since their invention, bicycles and their riders became the subject of satire. Punch magazine particularly enjoyed ridiculing them. They also became useful stage props in theatre and the focus of many songs.

Let’s Have A Ride on Your Bicycle was issued (on 78rpm) in 1953, so, historically, it’s much newer than other items on this website. But Max Miller was Great Britain’s most famous Music Hall artist, and our country’s famous Music Hall tradition hails from the mid-19th century, founded in the saloon bars of pubs. While the theatre was more formal (with a separate bar), in a Music Hall you’d sit at a table and could drink and smoke while watching the show. The most famous establishment was The Grecian Saloon, at The Eagle public house in City Rd in London, its name etched into memories of generations of British children because of Pop goes the Weasel.

RIDE-VINTAGE-online-magazine-2MAX MILLER

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Max Miller was Britain’s top music hall comedian in the late 1930s to the late 1950s. Nicknamed the Cheeky Chappie, Miller was known for his risque jokes and gaudy suits. Born Thomas Henry Sargent in 1894, in Hereford Street, Brighton, Miller became notorious for double entendres which saw him banned from the BBC. His jokes were reputedly written in two notebooks, white for ‘clean’ humour, blue for ‘adult’ jokes. He had the habit – to avoid censorship – of stopping before the end of a sentence which could only end with a dirty joke so he could then rebuke the audience for their ‘dirty minds.’ He was known for outlandish outfits, generally patterned plus fours and matching long jacket, a trilby hat and kipper tie. He was a popular singer of comedy songs, his most famous being Mary From the Dairy, his signature tune. He appeared in 14 films and made three Royal Variety Show appearances.

In real life, he was bourgeois, almost puritan, not allowing bad language in dressing-rooms. At home, he lived in privacy, devoted to his surprisingly posh wife, and fond of keeping parrots. He gave donations to blind charities as he had been temporarily blinded in Mesopotamia during the First World War and never knew if he would recover his sight. But these were kept secret. In old age, he said : ‘Me, Max Miller, I’m nothing. But the Cheeky Chappie, he’ll live for ever.’ He told a Sunday paper: ‘I’ve got enough money to last me the rest of my life – if I die tomorrow.’ Soon afterwards, on 7th May 1963, he died at home at 25 Burlington Street, Brighton, from a heart ailment; he had been cared for by his wife Kathleen Marsh.

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MAX MILLER STATUE, PAVILION GDNS, BRIGHTON

(1909 CENTAUR RESILIENT)

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As bicycles captured the public imagination soon after their invention, they became a popular ‘vehicle’ for the subject of contemporary songs.

 

The idea of women riding velocipedes was particularly contentious, at first because it was an outrageous idea for women to ride a ‘man’s vehicle’ and, subsequently, because of conservative ideas about female attire.

 

But there’s one inescapable fact about cycling that’s not usually mentioned in its 19th century history – cycling a very sociable activity. In Victorian times it provided wonderful opportunities to meet members of the opposite sex, sometimes unchaperoned. I’m sure it often lead to declarations such as ‘Sweetheart I Love None But You.’

Bicycle manufacturers soon capitalized on the popularity of cycles in songs. For example, The Fowler Cycle Co sponsored the Cyclists National Grand March

The sheet music below, for the United States Wheel March, was composed to advertise a bicycle called the United States Wheel. In addition, Bancroft the Magician helped promote the company.

In fact, all sorts of entertainers were used in the 1890s for cycle company promotion, including trick cyclists, overweight or midget cyclists, magicians …in fact, anyone who helped the product stand out from the competition.

RIDE-VINTAGE-online-magazine-2DAISY BELL

Daisy Bell is surely the best-known bicycle song. Written by the British composer and cycle enthusiast Harry Dacre, it has an interesting history, as you can read below.

There is a flower within my heart
Daisy, Daisy
Planted one day by a glancing dart
Planted by Daisy Bell

Whether she loves me or loves me not
Sometimes it’s hard to tell
Yet I am longing to share the lot
Of beautiful Daisy Bell

Chorus:
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do
I’m half crazy all for the love of you
It won’t be a stylish marriage
I can’t afford a carriage
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two

We will go ‘tandem’ as man and wife
Daisy, Daisy
Ped’ling away down the road of life
I and my Daisy Bell

When the road’s dark, we can both despise
Policemen and lamps as well
There are bright lights in the dazzling eyes
Of beautiful Daisy Bell

Chorus…

I will stand by you in “wheel” or woe
Daisy, Daisy
You’ll be the bell(e) which I’ll ring you know
Sweet little Daisy Bell

You’ll take the lead in each trip we take
Then if I don’t do well
I will permit you to use the brake
My beautiful Daisy Bell.

Chorus…

As well as featuring in songs, the humble bicycle has, over the years, also been ‘instrumental’ in making music. Here are a few examples…

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21st AUGUST, 1897, The RAMBLER MAGAZINE: BICYCLE HARP

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1920s: DUTCH BICYCLE MUSIC CORPS

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1930s: RAY SINATRA CYCLING ORCHESTRA

Bicycles continued to be used as gimmicks in entertainment. Ray Sinatra – Frank’s cousin – had an orchestra and his own network radio program called Cycling the Kilocycles in the mid-1930s. Using Silver Kings and other upmarket American cycles of the day, they appeared on stage on bicycles as the Ray Sinatra Cycling Orchestra.

 

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1963: FRANK ZAPPA MUSICAL BICYCLE: WITH STEVE ALLEN

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2nd FEBRUARY, 2002, CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: MUSICAL TRIKE

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Max Miller history – http://londonbobby.com

Dutch Corps – http://www.leger1939-1940.nl/Fotos/wielrijders_muziekkorps_1.htm

Music on Wheels – http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/36416

Frank Zappa on Steve Allen Show – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vip0H-I8pTg

Thai Musical Trike, Chinese New Year parade, 2002 – http://www.Pigs-on-Mopeds.com

 

 

Railway Bicycles & War Machines

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RAILWAY BICYCLES

The railway was the first form of transportation to cater to provide mass transportation. At first, in America, it was cheap. But in due course the railroad magnates took advantage of their monopoly, resulting in higher prices and public resentment. It was the first time that the public took notice of corporate greed and wrote about it. The term ‘robber barons’ appeared in the August 1870 issue of ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ magazine. Bicycles were first manufactured around the same time, and they grew in popularity partly because they provided a solution to having to rely on the railway.

‘Railroad velocipedes’ were patented for manufacture, as well as being constructed by individuals to take advantage of using their bicycles on rural railway tracks.

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sears roebUck HARRIS 20TH CENTURY RAILWAY BICYCLE

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1891 RAILROAD VELOCIPEDE PATENT: FRANK BRADY

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1892 RAILROAD VELOCIPEDE PATENT: HENRY MANN

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BOER WAR RAILWAY BICYCLES

Donald Menzies Cycles Boer War

The most profuse use of railway bicycles was during the Boer War in South Africa around the turn of the century. The British enclosed the railway network across the country to create a barrier so the Boer cavalry could not pass. They built a series of fortified blockhouses, each with overlapping fields of fire. Armoured trains patrolled the network. By the end of the war there were more than 8000 blockhouses along 3700 miles of corridors. ‘War cycles’ were also used for patrols. They were inspired by Colonel Jack Rose of the Cape Colony Cycle Corps, and built by Cape Town cycle builder Donald Menzies:

Jack Rose was born in Cape Town and educated at SACS where his sporting prowess was legendary. He was a member of the school’s cycling team – this sport was extremely popular in the late 19th century. After leaving school he set the international one hour amateur speed record of almost 48 kmh/30 mph at the then new Green Point Track. This was in 1898 and was believed to be the fastest speed then attained on land other than by a locomotive! He was only 22 years old at the time.

Cycling in those non-motorised days was so popular that Johannesburg had more cycles than Paris. Jack Rose was employed as an analytical chemist at the Government Laboratory in Parliament Street, Cape Town. He had joined the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Volunteer Rifles, now the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) and was commissioned as a lieutenant.

The internal combustion age was fast approaching and Rose purchased his first “motor car” in 1899. This was an air-cooled Ariel motor-tricycle, light enough for it to be carried on a train or a tram, it was able to reach a speed of 32 kmh/20 mph.

His interest in motor vehicles was equalled by his interest in cycling. He was selected to represent South Africa in an international cycling competition in Argentina where he became the first South African to wear the green and gold. It came about rather by default than by design – Rose always preferred to race in white, but another team has already nominated white as their team colour and he was then forced to go and look for an alternative in the local shops. The only suitable alternative that he could come up was a shirt in green and gold.

Jack Rose was a lieutenant in the Dukes on the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. He was mobilized with his regiment and served with them until 1900, when he transferred to the Cape Colony Cyclist Corps. He rose in the ranks and became second in command of the unit which consisted of some 450 men.

One of his earliest challenges was to design a railway reconnaissance vehicle. This was done in collaboration with his friend Donald Menzies, the first person to assemble bicycles in Cape Town and a fellow champion cyclist, and they designed a ‘rail cycle’ fitted with flanges which enabled it to ride on the railway lines. The solution was quite simple, but ingenious at the same time. Two-, three- and four-seater tandem bicycles were used in speed-track racing and by joining two tandem bicycles with sturdy crossbars, the same width as the standard gauge on South African railways, solved the problem. Eight men operated the device, four on either side with all of them pedalling! It proved to be very successful and fifty were built for use on the railway lines in the Transvaal bushveld.

The eight-man tandem prototype was actually too heavy for practical use. At 1500lbs it was difficult to brake, made too much noise and suffered from violent shaking. There’s no record of its use in combat situations. But the basic version saw active service. It involved two men sitting side by side, with the great advantage that with steering not required – the wheels were flanged like rolling stock – they could ride and shoot at the same time. It could travel at up to 30mph but was unstable at high speeds, so 10mph was the general cruising speed.

Railway War Cycle Boer War

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Jack Rose history thanks to – http://samilitaryhistory.org/12/c12julne.html

War Cycles illustrations – http://velocipedes.blazerweb.co.uk/newsletters/Newsletter19b.pdf

Two-man War Cycle photo from Jim Fitzpatrick’s excellent book ‘Wheeling Matilda’ (recommended reading!)

 

Awheel on Land & Water

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AWHEEL on LAND & WATER

‘Swash!’ The craft took the water like a miniature liner being launched, the fore parts of the floats rising gallantly above the wavelets made by the wind, the bicycle-boat forging steadily ahead under the impetus given by the tiny screw. …Motorists hurrying along the Portsmouth Road stopped their cars, and our cyclist-sailor was soon the centre of a crowd anxious to witness some further demonstrations, which he good-humouredly gave.

– Cycling Magazine, 18th June, 1914

Mr. H.G. Belbin was an inventor who designed various applications for bicycles. On another page you can see his pedal-aeroplane.

Here is his Road-and-River-Cycle.

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1888 VELOCIPEDE-BOAT

Well, there’s nothing new under the sun, as they say. It appears that a patent existed as early as 1888 for a bicycle-powered boat, submitted by F.J. and W.H. Ross.

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1889 JORGENSEN WATER BICYCLE

To Fly or not To Fly?

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TO FLY OR NOT TO FLY?

 

 

 

If ever you knew a Yankee lad,

Wise or otherwise, good or bad,

Who seeing the birds fly, wouldn’t jump

With flapping arms from stake or stump.

Or spreading the tail of his coat for a sail,

take a soaring leap from post or rail,

and wonder why he couldn’t fly

and flap and flutter and wish and try.

Darius Green & His Flying Machine, by John T. Trowbridge, 1870

John T. Trowbridge wrote his renowned poem in 1870, and it took the fancy of youngsters of that time as well as subsequent generations. I’m sure that also, consciously or unconsciously, it inspired some of those youngsters, as they grew up, to transform their earth-bound bicycles into flying machines. You can read the full poem at bottom of the page.


It’s now so common to jump onto an airplane for our holidays, it’s easy, in the 21st century, to take flying for granted. But the first sustained flight with a powered, controlled aircraft was not really that long ago – in 1903 (presumably the Wright Brothers’ Flyer I, but possibly Alberto Santos-Dumont’s 14-Bis).

There had been airplane designs and concepts over the years, stretching back centuries; it wasn’t until the early 1900s that propeller planes made those ideas a reality. The propeller mounted on the Wright Brothers’ plane was driven by manpower, using a system based on the Wright Brothers’ bicycle designs.

Many enthusiasts and inventors built pedal-aeroplanes, especially after Robert Peugeot of France offered a prize for the first flight of a distance of 10 metres or 33 feet, in 1912.

There were many attempts at this, and Peugeot gave several consolation prizes, some of them for distances less than the long-jump record of the time which was 7.61 metres (Peter O’Connor in Dublin, 5 Aug 1901). But the prize was not won for nine years.

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CYCLING MAGAZINE, 2nd JANUARY 1913

Above, Paul Didier with the winged bicycle upon which hew recently ‘flew’ a distance of 10 yards. Note the small dimensions of the planes.

Below: Didier making his marvellous jump at the Parc des Princes, Paris. He is clearing a rod 8″ from the ground.

RIDE-VINTAGE-online-magazine-2THE WRIGHT BROTHERS


It was a cold December morning, with low clouds scudding across the sky, blown by a gusty wind that would have sent hats flying in a city street. Sometimes the sun broke through for a moment, as though it was anxious not to miss the great event that was soon to take place below.

The place was Kitty Hawk, a curious name for a stretch of barren sand-dunes that were rather like a corner of the Sahara Desert. But the name had the right sound for the place where man was going to fly an aeroplane for the first time.

Across a flat stretch of sand two clever young men had laid down what looked like a single railway line. On this rested a little two-wheeled trolley, and mounted on the trolley was a most curious contraption of wood and cloth and metal.

This was the aeroplane – the ‘flying machine’ – that two brother had built. To us, looking back over the years to 1903, it might be taken for a large kite. But to the Wright Brothers who had built it, it was the pride of their hearts, the result of years of work and experimenting. And indeed, on a closer look at that contraption resting like an ungainly bird on its roght plank trollety, it was not such a simple affair. it had two wings, a tail with two rudders, elevators, two propellers, an engine, controls and a place for the pilot.

It is true that the wings were flimsy, the tail seemed to be in front instead of behind, the propellers were a peculiar shape and were driven by chains like a bicycle, the engine had about the power of a motor-bike, and the pilot lay face downwards precariously on the wing, without so much as a windscreen to protect him.

The Wright Brothers, by Bruce Carter, 1955

The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were credited with inventing and building the world’s first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903. In the two years afterward, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.

The brothers’ fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on developing a reliable method of pilot control as the key to solving “the flying problem”. This approach differed significantly from other experimenters of the time who put more emphasis on developing powerful engines. Using a small homebuilt wind tunnel, the Wrights also collected more accurate data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers that were more efficient than any before. Their first U.S. patent, 821,393, did not claim invention of a flying machine, but rather, the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulated a flying machine’s surfaces.

They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. The Wright Brothers had become interested in bicycles in the early 1890s, as the safety bicycle started to become popular. Each of them bought one, with Orville taking up racing, doing well in local events. They soon noticed how many people wanted bicycles. So, in 1893, they set up a bicycle shop across the street from their printing business. They repaired bikes as well as selling them, and soon realized they could build better machines than those they were selling. Soon they began designing and building their own, culminating in the ‘Wright Special.’

Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first aircraft engine in close collaboration with the brothers.

The Wright brothers’ status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties. Much controversy persists over the many competing claims of early aviators.

WRIGHT BROTHERS WORKSHOP

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1930 NELSON GLIDE-O-BIKE

Here’s a wonderful chance for every boy to get into flying. Here’s the chance you’ve been waiting for. Don’t miss it. Read every word of this advertisement – and then get ready to enjoy some real flying thrills. You want to fly, of course. Every red-blooded boy does. Now you can! Just send us 25c and get our easy plans for making a genuine Glide-O-Bike. Any boy can build it in a jiffy.

Once you read the Glide-O-Bike adverts more closely, you realize that with the plans you buy for 25c you don’t actually build a bike that flies, rather you create a bike whose front wheel lifts off. Nevertheless, it’s a great idea and I’m sure lots of youngsters made some decent pocket money:

‘Other fellows will be glad to pay you 10c to 25c a ride. Operate your own airport. With every set of plans, we send you free instructions for starting and operating a Glide-O-Bike airport like the one in the picture.’


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AUGUST, 1931 MODERN MECHANICS & INVENTIONS

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DARIUS GREEN & HIS FLYING MACHINE

Written by John T. Trowbridge …in 1870

 

If ever you knew a Yankee lad,

Wise or otherwise, good or bad,

Who seeing the birds fly, wouldn’t jump

With flapping arms from stake or stump.

Or spreading the tail of his coat for a sail,

take a soaring leap from post or rail,

and wonder why he couldn’t fly

and flap and flutter and wish and try.