Photo Album: Brooklyn Bike History

In the late 19th century, advances in manufacturing made the bicycle suddenly accessible and affordable to average New Yorkers. Bicycle riding became wildly popular, and streets increasingly chaotic, with cyclists sharing unpaved roads with horseback riders, horse-drawn carriages and streetcars.

Reclaim teamed up with Brooklyn Historical Society to celebrate ye olde velocipeders of yore, and peek back at a century of bicycling in New York. You can visit Brooklyn Historical Society, open Wednesday to Sunday from noon to 5 pm at 128 Pierrepont Street, or at brooklynhistory.org.


Adrian Vanderveer Martense, [Traffic at Grand Army Plaza], circa 1880, lantern slide, v1974.7.60; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Two Young Girls on a Bike], circa 1910, photographic print, v.1988.486.28; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Ruth and Hazel Shellens outside their family home in Sunset Park with a ladies safety bicycle. The lowered crossbar made bicycling more accessible to women.


Alfred Cranston, [Untitled], circa 1890, glass plate negative, v1994.013; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Alfred Cranston (right) in the backyard of his home on Quincy Street; his high socks were common cycling gear at the time.


Associated Cycling Clubs of Long Island letterhead, Legal Notes, 1897. Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Before automobiles were common, local “wheelmen” organized cycling clubs to finance the paving of the first asphalt roads in New York City.


Eugene L. Armbruster, [Vernon Avenue Bridge on Greenpoint side, Bushwick], 1923, gelatin silver prints, V1974.1.222; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Vernon Avenue Bridge opened in 1905 and was demolished in 1954 to make way for the Pulaski Bridge. Cyclists would likely have had to pay a toll to cross.


Associated Cycling Clubs of Long Island, 1898. Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Pothole locations are listed in a letter from the Associated Cycling Clubs of Long Island to the Corporation Counsel of New York.


Walter Hull Aldridge, Coney Island ’89, 1889, photographic print, V1972.1.808; Brooklyn Historical Society.

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