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'Wheel Fever' Traces Early Bicycling in Wisconsin


Four young men posing with their bicycles, circa 1900
WHI 47195

A new book from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press tells the fascinating story of early bicycling in Wisconsin. From "boneshakers" to high-wheels and racing bikes to tricycles, 'Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State' by Jesse J. Gant and Nicholas J. Hoffman, traces the story of Wisconsin's first bicycling boom.

The authors weave their way through bicycling history beginning with the velocipede craze of 1869 and pedaling through the "wheel fever" of the 1890s. This lushly illustrated book features never-before-seen images of early bicycles and the people who rode them: bloomer girls, bicycle jockeys, young urbanites and unionized workers. "Wheel Fever" also details the often-impassioned debates over who should be allowed to ride, where they could ride, and even what they should wear.

A Story Not Told Until Now

The cover of "Wheel Fever:  How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State"
A foreword by noted bicycling historian David Herlihy, author of Yale University Press's "Bicycle: The History," introduces the fascinating history behind the popularity of biking in Wisconsin — a story that has never been told in depth, until now.

"Wheel Fever" is about the origins of bicycling and why those origins still matter, but it is also about Wisconsin's continuing fascination with all things bicycle. Meticulously researched through periodicals and newspapers, "Wheel Fever" portrays the unique origins of a much-beloved sport, which undeniably shaped contemporary bicycling culture.

About the Authors

Jesse J. Gant is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with research interests in 19th-century United States history. A native of Janesville, he has written for the History News Network, the "Indiana Magazine of History," and the "Wisconsin Magazine of History." Jesse is a committed cyclist who divides his time between Madison and Saint Louis.

Nicholas J. Hoffman is curator at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton and has written articles for the "Wisconsin Magazine of History." His lifelong interest in Midwest history led to a master's in history from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. A native of Hillsboro and an avid cyclist, he enjoys exploring the state's landscape on two wheels.

Mark Your Calendars

Join bicyclists and biking enthusiasts at Old World Wisconsin on July 19, 2014, for a day of bicycling and antique bicycle demonstrations. In the morning, members of The Wheelmen bicycling history club will ride high-wheelers from their International Convention in Waukesha to Old World Wisconsin where they will demonstrate bike riding, racing and trick techniques on antique and replica bicycles.

Visitors will have the chance to try out Old World Wisconsin's antique tricycles as part of the event and the new "Catch Wheel Fever" visitor experience at the living-history site. Jesse Gant and Nicholas Hoffman, co-authors of "Wheel Fever," will also discuss early bicycling history. Visit Old World Wisconsin's website for updated details and registration information beginning in January. Also, check out more "Wheel Fever" bike rides and book talks coming up soon, in 2013, below.

Upcoming Book Events


:: Posted September 9, 2013

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