American Childhood and Learning to Ride a Bike

A young man with a cigarette in his mouth working as a bike messenger in Waco, Texas 1913

GEOG/HST 170 – Historical Geography: Mapping American Childhoods

University of Vermont, May 2022

Dr. Meghan Cope

Colin Finnegan

One of the earliest memories many children in America have even to this day is learning to ride a bike for the first time. Once a child learns to ride a bike a whole new world of opportunity is opened up for that individual. All of a sudden a child can navigate the world around them by themselves, or with a group of their peers. Free to make memories, mistakes and learn lessons on their own through experience. This phenomenon began and proliferated during the period of our study in Historical Geography this year, with the popularity of bicycles first growing as a mode of transportation for adults before the turn of the 20th century and then slowly transitioning to a rite of passage for growing American children after the turn of the century and during the first world war.