Racing all the Rage: Bicyclists Speed Through Davenport on the Fourth of July, 1901

From their earliest days, the citizens of Davenport have loved to race. Looking through newspapers and other records, we have come across foot races, horse races, and running races. This year, when researching the history of past Fourth of July’s, we were excited to come across information on a different type: bicycle races!

By the late 1890s in Davenport, Iowa, like many other areas of the United States and Europe, bicycling was all the rage. The Davenport Daily Leader of August 29, 1898 reported that the Tri-Angle Cycling Club of Davenport wore the colors turquoise, blue, and petunia on their cycling costumes as they rode about the city and countryside.

As bicycles developed sturdier frames and wheels, and individuals became more proficient in their use,  it seemed natural that the next step would be bicycle races. In 1901, the bicycle dealers of Davenport decided the perfect day for a race would be the Fourth of July.

Planning began on June 13th. The race was open to anyone who could pay the $1 entry fee and ride 12 miles.  The starting line was located at Fourteenth and Brady Streets and the route ran as follows: riders would head east on Fourteenth Street to Grand Avenue, then north to High Street, and then east on High Street  to the Orphans’ Home Road (now Eastern Avenue). Going north on Orphan’s Home Road, the race would go to Pine Hill Cemetery, west to Brady Street, through Central Park (now Vander Veer Park), and back to the starting line. The riders would travel the course twice. (1)

Fourteen prizes would be awarded in two categories: “Best Time” and “Place of Place”(which seems to be the number they crossed the finish line). And just to make sure the race did not cut into the Fourth of July celebrations or the heat of the day, it was scheduled to begin at 8:30 in the morning.

Davenport Mayor Fred Heinz accepted the invitation to be the official starter of the race. The race also included a referee, a Clerk of Course, judges, timers, and checkers. The checkers were spread out along the course to make sure the riders followed the correct route.

By July 3rd, 32 bicyclists were signed up for the race. Considering the area was suffering a heat wave, it was probably wise to begin the race early in the morning! The riders were divided into groups of three to five riders so not all would be riding on the streets at one time. Large crowds were expected to be watching the event, so Davenport Police Chief Frank Kessler placed officers along the route to help make sure the crowd did not interfere with the race. (2)

By all accounts, the road race was a great success. The expected winner, Mr. Andy Johnson of Moline, came in second to Mr. Roy Vosberg of Davenport in the “Point of Place” category. Mr. Johnson tied with Mr. Fred Doeckel of Rock Island for best time. The Davenport Democrat of July 5 kindly suggested that perhaps Mr. Johnson had been a little too confident of his chances to win and should have tried harder.

 On July 5th, the Davenport Democrat reported that there had been some minor accidents on the course. Mr. Charles Polchow took a spill when he ran into a dog that had wandered onto the course (both were unharmed). A Mr. A. N. Rust was forced to drop out after his bicycle tire was punctured, and although a Mr. Will Zimmerman suffered some defect to his bicycle, he somehow managed to borrow another bicycle and finish the race.

After the race was completed, awards were distributed: Mr. Vosberg received a $35 gold watch and a gas lamp; Mr. George R. Meyer won a Crosby bicycle.

Not everyone was pleased with the results. Referee Emil Kostlatomsky was still in the possession of the $50 Al-Ard bicycle and the $8 pair of Perfection tires. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Doeckel, who tied for “Best Time,” could not agree on who was to receive which one of those prizes. (3)

If we ever do find out how Mr. Johnson and Mr. Doeckel decided to divide up their prizes, we will be sure to let you know! In all, it appears Davenport’s Fourth of July bicycle race of 1901 was a great success.

Happy Fourth of July from the staff of the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center of the Davenport Public Library!

(posted by Amy D.)


(1) Davenport Daily Leader, June 25, 1901. Pg. 5.

(2) Davenport Democrat, July 3, 1901. Pg. 6.

(3) Davenport Republican, July 6, 1901. Pg. 7.

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