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Cool Things - Tandem Bicycle

Tandem bicycleAt least three Kansas families have enjoyed this bicycle built for two. They all rode in the southern part of the state, where the land is flat but the wind is strong. Riding into a Kansas headwind makes any cyclist appreciate healthy lungs and sturdy legs.

Bicycling has long been touted as excellent exercise. The earliest European cycles were valued as an alternate means of human locomotion, but it didn't take new riders long to realize a gain in fitness. The bicycling craze spread across the Atlantic, exploding in popularity during the late 1880s. By the following decade, catalog retailers such as Montgomery Ward & Co. were selling adult bicycles for as low as $45, plus specialized clothing, tools, and even child's seats.

Hundreds of manufacturers overproduced cycles during the boom years, though, and the bottom dropped out of the market. Many cycling businesses failed during the bust. About 40 surviving firms joined forces in a trust known as the American Bicycle Company (ABC) of Chicago. ABC manufactured this tandem bicycle sometime between 1899, the year it formed, and 1902, the year it failed.

Harry Baugh purchased this tandem--a bicycle made for two riders--sometime in the early years of the 20th century. Born in Missouri, Baugh worked as a laborer in his home state and Wyoming before settling in Garden City, Kansas, in the 1910s. He may have purchased the tandem new in Missouri, or bought it used in another state.

While living in Garden City, Baugh gave the tandem to the Sartorius family. Joe and Elizabeth Sartorius had emigrated from Germany to the U.S. around 1903, settling first in Colorado, then moving to Garden City sometime in the 'teens. They were in their late 20s or early 30s when they acquired the tandem, a time of life when youth and energy lends itself to strenuous exercise. Their standard of living was considerably higher than Baugh's. Joe Sartorius was an administrator at a sugar beet factory in the western Kansas town, and the family kept a servant. Owning a bicycle rounded out their new American middle-class lifestyle.

Wichita license tag on tandem bicycleThis tandem is a fairly typical turn-of-the-century example. The front portion of the vehicle has a drop frame, most likely to accommodate a female rider. Drop frames allowed women to mount and ride cycles while wearing voluminous skirts (later models featured guards to prevent skirts from getting tangled in the chains). The front half's feminine orientation is further confirmed by the fact that the forward pedals crank a chain connected to a smaller chainring (cogged wheel). This meant the rider would pedal faster, but with less effort. Note that the two handlebars are joined by a metal rod at the bottom to coordinate the riders' steering.

Although Harry Baugh and Joe Sartorius both rode this tandem, its history of use did not end there. Joe handed down the cycle to his daughter, Maria. She probably rode it with her first husband, Harold Drake, and their son David, and possibly with her second husband, John Craig, in south central Kansas. The 1964 Wichita license tag dates from Maria's period of ownership. The original black frame was painted red at some point.

Maria Craig donated the tandem to the Kansas Museum of History in 1981.

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Entry: Cool Things - Tandem Bicycle

Author: Rebecca Martin

Date Created: August 2010

Date Modified: August 2010

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.