SVF - Baltimore - Stores & Business Establishments - George W. Slee - Eutaw Place- Ca. 1895

George W. Slee, seen cycling at Eutaw Place, circa 1895. (Maryland Historical Society)

Baltimore is the City of Firsts, as any visitor to the Museum of Industry knows. We boast the first umbrella factory, the first mass-produced ice cream for everyday consumption, the first Old Bay, the first purpose-built museum building in the Western Hemisphere (and the old Peale building down on North Holliday Street is still vacant, if you're looking for new digs), and the first large-head tennis racket. And now, if Baltimore Heritage has its way, Baltimore will be recognized as the birthplace of American bicycling.

Born in Germany, the velocipede, that precursor to the safety bicycle we're all still riding today, was a strange two-wheeled contraption that was almost universally mocked as a silly fad for the urban dandy. Not so for James Stewart, a Baltimore piano-maker, who made the very first velocipede and put it on display at the old Concert Hall on South Charles Street in 1819. The many dandies of Baltimore responded to this new creature and were soon riding it all over town, terrorizing pedestrians and horsemen in an early incarnation of the 12 O'Clock Boys.

And now, with the International Cycling History Conference in town this weekend, it's time to get this "first" put in our city's permanent brag book. Baltimore Heritage and the Maryland Historical Society (where City Paper contributor Joe Tropea works) are hosting several events today as part of their Olde Timey Bike Fest to spread the word about our bicycling prowess:

  • Visit the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) for FREE from until 7:30 p.m.
  • Experience the special exhibition: "American Wheels to the Front: The Involution of American Bicycles (1868-today)" from 4-7:30 p.m.
  • There will be a FREE Young Defenders First Thursday Happy Hour in the Courtyard from 5-7:30 p.m.
  • On hand will be local food trucks and local beer and wine at a cash bar: $3 for beer; $5 for wine
  • Demonstrations of historic bicycles by modern high-wheel men starting at 6 p.m.
  • A celebratory bike ride led by Baltimore Heritage departing MdHS at 7:30 p.m.

For more information on the International Cycling History conference, visit: cycling-history.org

For a complete list of events at the Maryland Historical Society, visit: mdhs.org/events