In the summer of 1898, Winfred Ernest Garrison was twenty-four years old, single, and the possessor of a newly minted PhD degree from the newly minted University of Chicago. In the fall he was to begin his teaching career at Butler University in Indianapolis. Rather than scramble to make a few dollars that summer or prepare for his classes, he and a friend bicycled through England, Scotland, and Wales, 3,018 miles in sixty-eight days. The next summer he took another bicycle vacation (his word), this time in central Europe, 3,132 miles which he describes as “a trip from Rotterdam to Berlin by way of Naples.”
Garrison had an advantage over most twenty-something cyclists. His father was owner-publisher-editor of a weekly magazine that published news and opinion distributed to church-going people across the nation.
He also ran a book-publishing enterprise. Justly proud of his son’s budding literary talents, Dad (J.H.) Garrison published the young wheelman’s smoothly written dispatches in his magazine and in 1900 gathered these accounts—“casual papers,” Winfred called them—into a book entitled Wheeling Through Europe.
Earlier that same year, again thanks to dad’s publishing company, the young historian had published The Theology of Alexander Campbell, a not-so-casual book based on his Chicago dissertation. Still teaching in Indianapolis, he also married Annie Dye. It was a good year for the young historian.
In his book, Garrison does not describe how he became such a committed cyclist. The sport was in its first decade of widespread popularity since the main characteristics of the “safety bicycle,” including the equal-sized wheels, chain drive, and pneumatic tires, had just been developed. Bicycles were expensive, costing the equivalent of several months salary for working people, and social customs related to cycling were still being formed.
It may be that Garrison had taken up cycling as part of his university way of life. In A Social History of the Bicycle Robert A. Smith reports that John D. Rockefeller inspected the campus of the Chicago university he had so richly endowed with its president William Rainey Harper “and a covey of professors, all awheel.” He notes that Amos Alonzo Stagg “beat out the millionaire in a short sprint,” and that the Chicago Tribute “called on President Harper to challenge President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard to a bicycle race to establish the academic supremacy of the two institutions.”
Wherever it was that he learned to be a cyclist, Garrison’s book makes it clear that he was accomplished in the activity, fully capable of cycling a hundred miles a day when the situation demanded and able to deal with various mechanical challenges at a time when bicycles were still new to large numbers of people. His book also shows that even in his early twenties, he was already well versed in literature, art, religion, and history. His book is a delight to read because of its descriptive detail of Great Britain and the continent more than a century ago and because of the way it reveals what cycling was like in its earliest days.
As could be expected of a book published more than a century ago, Wheeling Through Europe is hard to come by. I know of copies in Indianapolis, Nashville, Tennessee, Claremont, California, and Eugene, Oregon. Through the courtesy of the Interlibrary Loan Services of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, I have been able to access the copy held by the University of Oregon. It is gratifying to know that long before I combined my interests in religious history with a love of bicycling one of America’s most distinguished church historians had already made a similar connection.
Because Garrison’s dispatches are so interesting and his book is so rare, I am projecting a series of postings scanned from this early account of bicycle travel. Although these accounts are more than a century old, there is much about them that can instruct and inspire cyclists of our own time.
Garrison introduced his book with a report written while on board the steamer to London. He entitles the chapter “About Bicycle Touring.” To read his captivating account, click About Bicycle Touring.