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Presentation for the 2015 International Cycling History Confrence, Entraigues, France.
By the end of the 19th century, the state of Illinois was home to more than 60 bicycle manufacturers whose output accounted for an impressive 28% of the national total. Naturally, much of the bicycle industry was located in and around Chicago. Long forgotten, is the fact that Central Illinois also had a vibrant and productive bicycle industry. At the time, Peoria, Illinois (which is located in the central part of the state) was the second largest city in Illinois and home to a number of bicycle manufacturers including: Ide, Rouse and Hazard, Patee, Luthy, and Peoria Rubber and Manufacturing. Peoria-made “high art” bicycles were even exported to France and other European markets to meet overseas demand. Charles Duryea, who would go on to invent one of the first automobiles, began his career manufacturing bicycles in Peoria. Even Central Illinois-based agricultural manufacturing giant, John Deere, tried its' hand at manufacturing bicycles during the height of the boom.
In addition to manufacturing, Peoria was also an important stop on the national bicycle racing circuit. During the 1890's, races on Peoria’s Lakeview track attracted international competition. Many world records -on both ordinaries and safeties- were set in Peoria. During the 1890 Peoria tournament, the “unbeatable” Willie Windle lost twice to newcomer August Zimmerman. Major Taylor, who grew up in neighboring Indiana, began his early racing career in Peoria. In his autobiography, Taylor would later recall, “Peoria was the Mecca of bicycle racing in those days. On its historical track all the fastest riders in the World struggled for fame and glory.”
This presentation will discuss the historical significance of Central Illinois bicycle manufacturing and bicycle racing during the 1890's. This analysis will include social, cultural, and economic impacts of the bicycle both within the state and across the nation.