“Exhibit ‘The Art of the Bicycle’ at the Museum of Science and Industry” by S.M. O’Connor

      The Art of the Bicycle, which opened at the Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.) on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, and will be open through 2018, gives museum visitors an overview of the history of bicycle engineering over nearly 200 years.  In 2018, the world will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Drais Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr von Sauerbronn (1785-1851) – often called Baron Karl von Drais in the U.S.A. – demonstrating what he called the Laufmaschine (Running-machine) in Paris, having invented it in 1817 to traverse his garden.  It became known in France as the “Draisienne” and in England as the “Draisine” or “hobbyhorse.”  The contraption was faster than walking alone, but not as fast as riding a modern bicycle.[1]

      The Art of the Bicycle exhibit is comprised of nine artifacts from M.S.I.’s bicycle collection, five contemporary racing bicycles, and ten of today’s cutting-edge bicycles.  The nine historic bicycles from MSI’s collection were rarely exhibited and have recently been restored.  “This exhibit highlights the ‘inventive genius’ that has helped the bicycle become one of the most popular, enjoyable and environmentally-friendly forms of transportation,” said Kathleen McCarthy, M.S.I.’s Director of Collections.[2] “The bike is special in that the changes made to its engineering were mainly made by its riders, who were continually inspired to improve designs and make the machine more safe, reliable and adaptable.”

Art of the Bicycle Exhibit @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago
Art of the Bicycle Exhibit @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 1 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This replica of Drais Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr von Sauerbronn’s Draisine Walking Machine (1818), from the collection of the Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.), can be seen in M.S.I.’s exhibit The Art of the Bicycle.

A replica of an 1818 Draisiene Walking Machine from M.S.I.’s collection allows visitors to compare and contrast the familiar bicycle of today with the German aristocrat’s invention.  The Draisiene Walking Machine has a wooden frame and metal wheel rims.  It lacked pedals.  The rider would sit astride the Draisiene Walking Machine and propel it forward by pushing with his feet away from the ground.

      M.S.I.’s 1931 replica of a McMillan is an example of an early bicycle with pedals from the 1830s.  Kirkpatrick McMillan (1812-1878) was a Scottish blacksmith who added pedals to the walking machine in 1839.

The front wheel of an American Star High Wheel from the late 19th Century is smaller than its back wheel.  The pedal moved up and down instead of in a circular motion.  This model provided a smooth ride but was also unsafe compared to modern bikes because it could easily overturn.

Art of the Bicycle Exhibit @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago
Art of the Bicycle Exhibit @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 2 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: The Safety Bicycle, produced from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, was a reliable, mass-produce model that women could ride as easily as men.  This one is on display in the Museum of Science and Industry’s exhibit The Art of the Bicycle.

The Safety Bicycle, produced from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century, was a reliable, mass-produce model that women could ride as easily as men.  It inspired feminist Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) to state, “The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

The sleek lines and chrome finish of the 1965 Sears Spaceliner remind us how much the Cold War era space race permeated American pop culture.  M.S.I. stated, “Like the historic examples, the bikes in the contemporary gallery also illustrate how today’s riders and inventors are pushing the boundaries of the bicycle. Learn about the latest trends, cutting-edge materials, and technologies used by elite athletes, urban riders and bike enthusiasts. See science’s role in the design process; several of today’s top bicycle companies are using defense-grade materials and working with former aeronautical and NASA engineers to create and test their products.”

Art of the Bicycle
Art of the Bicycle Exhibit @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 3 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is a prototype of Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni’s Cardboard Bicycle.  It is fully functional, waterproof, and fireproof.  The brake and pedals are made of recycled materials.

As incredible as this may seem, the Cardboard Bicycle is fully functional.  Not only that, but it is waterproof and fireproof.  The brake and pedals are made of recycled materials.  This is a prototype from Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni.  He expects it to come on the market for $20.

One can operate the PiMobility Electric Hybrid as a bicycle, motorcycle, or both. Made of BallisTec carbon fiber, the lightweight frame of the 2013 Cannondale Super6 EVO weighs one-and-a-half pounds.

      M.S.I. stated, “The ElliptiGO 8S is the Draisiene ‘Walking Machine’ of today. This interesting cross between a bike and elliptical trainer, allows riders to take the experience of an indoor elliptical to the outdoors. Users stand during their ride, moving their feet in smooth circular motions to propel the bike forward.”

Art of the Bicycle Exhibit @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago
Art of the Bicycle Exhibit @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 4 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: The 2012 Surly Moonlander, seen here at the Museum of Science and Industry exhibit The Art of the Bicycle, was designed for bicyclists who want to go where few would dare to follow.

The extra-wade tires of the 2012 Surly Moonlander provide traction on sand, gravel, snow, and ice for the bicyclist who seeks to bike where others would not dare to go.  Designed for urban commuters, the TERN Collapsible Commuter 2013 model bicycle can be folded for easy storage on a train or in an office.  It can fit in a suitcase.

“As guests will see in our exhibit, there is now a bicycle means to fit almost every need, terrain or riding style,” said Ms. McCarthy.  This exhibit will be on display through 2018, and is covered by M.S.I. general admission tickets.

 

Art of the Bicycle
Art of the Bicycle Exhibit @ The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago

Figure 5 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Various bicycle seats are mounted on a wall in the exhibit The Art of the Bicycle at the Museum of Science and Industry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The French inventor Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) called his improved model the “Velocipede.”  It was a novelty for young men from the upper classes.  The lack of brakes made it dangerous.  Grand Duke Karl of Baden gave him the equivalent of a ten-year patent and a pension.  Drais invented many things, but is best remembered for inventing the bicycle.  His railroad handcar is also sometimes called a Draisine.  A fervent democrat, he supported the German Revolution of 1848 and changed his name to Karl Drais, dropping his title and aristocratic “von.”  He was punished by his fellow aristocrats and deprived of his pension with the excuse the money was needed to pay for occupying Prussian troops.  Sadly, he died in poverty.  In 1985, the Federal Republic of Germany issued a stamp that depicted Drais on his Laufmaschine.

[2] She was my supervisor while I was Interim Archivist and the supervisor of my supervisor while I was Archival Assistant.

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