Bicycle Tours around the World in the 1890s
July 4, 2013 3:43 PM   Subscribe

In 1891, William L. Sachtleben and Thomas G. Allen Jr. graduated from Washington University and set off to travel around the world. But their adventure was unusual for that time, in that they would travel on bicycle, following in the tire tracks of the Englishman Thomas Stevens. The two young lads returned safely to the US after three years, after traveling some 15,044 miles on wheel. Sachtleben was then asked to find another young traveling bicyclist (and photographer), Frank G. Lenz, whose goal was to surpass Stevens' journey "in both distance and daring." Lenz had disappeared in Turkey, where Sachtleben learned of Frank Lenz's untimely demise.

Thomas Stevens differed from the later cyclists in that he traveled on a penny-farthing, while the later travelers utilized the "safety" bicycle design that was becoming a popular replacement for the old high-wheeler. Stevens documented his travels in Around the World on a Bicycle - Volume I and Volume II (Project Gutenberg; Volume II is also on Google Books).

Sachtleben and Allen had hoped to secure a sponsorship for their journey, but ended up traveling on their own. They returned with nitrate negatives and documented what they considered the most interesting part of their journey across Asia in Across Asia on a Bicycle: The Journey of Two American Students from Constantinople to Peking (on The book was re-printed in 2003, with additional notes (Google books preview). And for another modern look back on this trip, Adventure Cycling has stories and images from the winter Sachtleben and Allen spent in Athens.

Frank Lenz had started to take photographs on his bicycle tours around the US, which helped him get sponsorship from Outing magazine. He sent back written reports with photographs, which were published along with illustrations based on his photos. His journey was first published in December 1892 under the title Around the World with Wheel and Camera, then continued in January 1893 as Lenz's World Tour Awheel. And then, there were no more communications received from Lenz. William Sachtleben was selected to assist the expedition in search of Lenz. Lenz's World Tour Awheel was completed by "a Special Correspondent".

More than 100 years after Frank Lenz's disappearance and death, the story of Sachtleben's attempt to find Lenz was documented in full, portraying not just the circuitous routes but also the experiences of two Americans outside their element. And joining historian and author David V. Herlihy on his book tour was an example of the type of bike that Lenz rode during his trip. Last year, marking 120 years to the day that Lenz departed from Pittsburgh, the city officially commemorated "Frank Lenz Day."
posted by filthy light thief (8 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
And for a timely look back, an excerpt from Sachtelben and Allen's journey:
Unwilling to confine their exertions to cycling, the two paused to climb Mount Ararat, with the help of hired guides. Reaching its summit on July 4, 1891, they planted an American flag as they jubilantly fired their pistols into the air.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:54 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wow, clearly I haven't had a chance to look through all the links yet, but all of this looks fascinating! Thank you for the post.
posted by aclevername at 4:48 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, this is all fascinating! And a super post!
posted by sldownard at 5:21 PM on July 4, 2013

There are many photos (and they are fairly rustic!) in the Gutenberg online edition of their book.

Looks as though their route shares much in common with 2007 Colin Thubron book Shadow of the Silk Road - well worth reading if you've interest in what's going on in those parts post-Soviet.
posted by Twang at 5:38 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read "Three Men on a Bummel," by Jerome K. Jerome, so I am going to skip all your links. I mean, what else could they tell me?!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:44 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this post, lots of interesting links!
posted by meringue at 8:17 PM on July 4, 2013

I'm tempted to suggest to friends and family that this is the real reason that St. Louisans light off their firearms on July 4th with such fervor.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:34 PM on July 4, 2013

Great post, thank you. Going to take me a while to get through everything!
posted by distorte at 1:44 AM on July 5, 2013

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