Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State

Jesse J. Grant & Nicholas J. Hoffman
Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Madison, WI

Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State presents a history of early bicycling in Wisconsin beginning with the “velocipede mania” of 1869 to the crashing end of first bicycle boom at the turn of the 20th century. The book also discusses the impassioned debate over who should be allowed to ride, where they could ride, and even what they could wear.

Wisconsin positioned itself by 1895 as a leading cycling destination, yet at each step, conservatives challenged continual demands for expanded access to the sport, especially by women and people of color.  These developments within a recreational sport opened up a broader and long-overlooked dynamic within the state’s history and politics.

Using a rich collection of never before published photographs or exhibited artifacts, the book’s art connected readers to events and people described in the narrative. This research led to the Old World Wisconsin Museum’s creation of a new exhibit called Catch Wheel Fever. Cycling enthusiasts can dive further into Wheel Fever by participating in one of several historic bike tours the authors developed for cities such as Appleton, Milwaukee, and Madison.

The book has also had a big impact on state policy and advocacy. Wheel Fever has been explicitly referenced in an appeal to the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin for increased lobbying on behalf of vulnerable user laws.  Wisconsin’s legislative library has also recommended the book to its members, citing its value to a range of state policy makers and officials. Combined with more than a dozen articles and appearances across the state, including coverage in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, Wheel Fever‘s footprint continues to grow.

The authors’ comprehensive assembly of early bicycling history has helped to preserve the history of early recreation in Wisconsin, especially the state’s long love affair with bicycling. Additionally, research into the sport has unearthed documentation of minority rights issues, particularly for women, and the ensuing changes brought by the bicycle boom. By sharing these stories, the authors have re-introduced a fascinating part of the Wisconsin’s history to new generations and contributed to a larger piece of American recreational history.

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