Sunday, May 3, 2020

Ads for National Bike Week in 1920 Criticize Streetcars, not Automobiles

With groups rides gone and in-person contact greatly reduced, Bike Month this year is mostly virtual.

Marketing to adults - May 6th, 1920
In 1920, National Bicycle Week rolled out the advertising at the beginning of May, and in many ways streetcar transit was the foil.

Changes to Bike Month in 2020

In the shadow of the Pandemic, National Bike Month this year has to accommodate physical distancing measures. Several things in May are changed or postponed. Its national sponsors say
Most years, National Bike Month centers on biking to work and riding with a friend to a local coffee shop to get them back on a bike. In 2020, we’re doing National Bike Month a little differently. This May, the League encourages everyone to get on a bike, go for a ride, and share the joy online together. For the 31 days in May, #BikesUnite us.
Closer to home, the Street Trust postponed the Bike More Challenge to June.
Though May is traditionally National Bike Month, due the unprecedented events caused by the Covid-19 virus, Bike More Challenge is being moved to June.
After cancelling in 2019, Cherriots was going to hold Open Streets Salem this May, but through the Winter and into Spring, they made no announcement and clearly the project was delayed. Now, with C19, it is obviously on hiatus and it seems unlikely it will come together this year at all. Demand has seemed slack, there haven't been many calls for it, and the event does not seem to have found its footing yet here.

Even in Portland, where it has not been on hiatus, "stay home" and distancing requirements have prompted them to "reimagine" Sunday Parkways for May and June, and they will determine whether July's can proceed as usual. Things are in flux.

Bicycle Week in 1920 - Remembering the Flu

The campaign in 1920 had its own tensions, not quite pandemic-level yet still remembering influenza, and post-war society was complicated and in transition also.

Local advertising promoted bikes for kids much of the time.
Bikes are for kids. Also nostalgia for the olden days
March 14th, 1920
But for Bike Month, unlike in 1919 and more like in 1918, they aimed at adults.

The ad packages look like they were distributed nationally, and the number one theme, addressed to more densely urbanized areas, is avoiding streetcars. Ads portrayed them as crowded, stuffy, germ-laden, and expensive.

May 3rd, 1920
That's a bit of an unfair smear on streetcars and transit, and they really missed that cars rather than transit would be the enduring scourge. Cars, though, were new-fangled and still expensive enough that they weren't able to envision how they would take over and harm us. It's possible, too, that car manufacturers saw the bikes and the attack on transit as a useful ally.

The critique of transit is not all wrong, however, as we understand with C19 hanging over us now. The criticism in 1920 of street cars as "germ-laden," and the praise for bicycling as a "way to keep healthy, happy, and strong," is a glancing memory of the influenza pandemic. There are ways right now bicycling might be safer than transit at the moment, and there are extra reasons to value it.

May 3rd, 1920
They also marketed to women a little. They didn't dwell on them, but at least they showed women biking more than once and in the context of going to work.

Here's an ad for voting and commuting.

May 6th, 1920
Another promoted it for healthy ageing.

May 6th, 1920

Advertorial: Even the rich and famous bike when they are 80
May 7th, 1920
Saving money, saving time, saving health. Streetcars again.

May 7th, 1920

May 8th, 1920
These, especially the one for Spring tune-ups, were not nationally distributed, I don't think, and were composed here.

May 3rd, 1920
Already Nostalgia for the Golden Age and Youth

But just 20 years after the first bike boom, autoist triumphalism provided the narrative. Here in a piece about Founders Day at Champoeg the same day as the first round of Bike Week ads, Governor Geer's bike ride was remembered as something old-fashioned, already superseded and passe. It tapped into some of the same sentiment as that ad from March 14th, "Buy a bicycle for your boy." Serious adults now drive or are driven in cars.

May 3rd, 1920
The appeal to the octogenarian celebrities, Edison, Rockefeller, and Burbank, also shows biking as a leisure hobby and as aspirational rather than as basic transportation and mobility. The wealthy can return to the simple pleasures of youth.

A 25th anniversary ad for one brand of bicycle also hits the generational nostalgia. The men looking at the bike are remembering their younger selves and more carefree times, perhaps hoping a new bike will confer that again on them.

More nostalgia:
Dayton's 25th anniversary
April 22nd, 1920
Previously on Harry Scott:
On Arthur Moore:
Since Scott's is still around, I have written the most about him and his store. That longevity is something to note and celebrate regularly. Lloyd Ramsden hasn't yet shown his story, and sometime there may be more to say.

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