Thomas Rademacher graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Comprehensive Honors degrees in History and Psychology. Born and raised in Wisconsin, he has maintained a keen interest in the state’s industries, landscape, and history. He is currently working for Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity as a Construction Supervisor.


By This Author:

image of a sterling safety bicycle

OBJECT HISTORY: Sterling Safety Bicycle

The bicycle pictured here was donated to the Wisconsin Historical Museum, where it is currently housed. This model, still a bright blue, is a women’s safety bicycle with a lowered top tube to accommodate for dresses and skirts that were fashionable for women in the 1890s.

The 1890s Bicycle Craze in Wisconsin

Bicycles entered Wisconsin as early as January 7, 1869 and grew in popularity until the Milwaukee Sentinel reported on June 29, 1890 “that no sport of the present century has grown so rapidly in popular favor as bicycling.”

bicycle road map

Wisconsin Bicycle Tourism

The Pneumatic, a Wisconsin periodical and trade journal dedicated to bicycles in the 1890s, declared that “few states offer advantages for touring wheelmen equal to those of Wisconsin,” and that “every year thousands of wheelmen from Chicago and other cities of Illinois, make Wisconsin their stamping ground.” These promotions are examples of how bicycling encouraged tourism and travel within in the state.

a cropped image of a man hauling pipes over a deeply rutted country road

Wisconsin Road Conditions

One of the biggest impediments to the progress of the popularity of bicycling in the late 19th century was bad roads. Wisconsin roads in the 1880s were “plagued by mud, poor signage, and crumbling bridges and sidewalks.” Bicycling on sandy or cut-up roads was incredibly difficult and took away from the enjoyment of traveling by bicycle. Because of this, Wisconsin wheelmen focused on documenting road conditions and working to improve them.