Wheeling Through Europe in 1898

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.

4 Responses to Wheeling Through Europe in 1898

  1. Rodney Allen Reeves says:

    Keith, your projected series of postings scanned from Winfred Ernest Garrison’s “Wheeling Through Europe” I look forward to reading. His book introduction About Bicycle Touring that you provided us the link to in this post is interesting as an insight into the integration of vigorous physicality into the total being of the impressive young W.E.Garrison.

    Especially liked his comment “When you have wheeled from the Atlantic to Lake Michigan or from the Upper Mississippi to the Gulf (and after all it is not much of a feat/Garrison’s words), you will feel that the territory covered is your own. Have you not conquered it?” Keith, as one with considerable more years, than Garrison when he was “Wheeling Though Europe, I’m curious if *you also* cultivate a sense from your numerous bicycle journeys, that “the territory covered is your own”? That strikes me as an expansive integrating experience with the land, that is much to be envied by us non (or even non-serious) bicyclists.

    A last interesting note. I was inspired to pull The Disciples of Christ: A History, by Winfred Ernest Garrison and Alfred T. DeGroot (1948, Christian Board of Publication, St. Louis, Missouri) from my library. The following quote from page 370 adds a little human interest from a different angle — “As J.H. Garrison (father of W.E./my insert) was preparing to leave for the convention at Louisville in 1880 his two small boys and a girl cousin who lived with the family handed him the contents of their savings banks ($1.13) and said, ‘We want this to go to send the gospel to children who have never heard of Jesus.’ The report of this led the convention to ask the Sunday schools to devote one offering each year to foreign missions. This was the origin of Children’s Day.”

    • Rod, I do feel an intimate connection with the land over which I bicycle. It is easy enough to bicycle mindlessly so that much of what lies around the cyclist is not noticed. Yet, you become aware of elevation changes, vegetation, road conditions, the feeling tone of neighborhoods, and other matters of this kind when you bicycle through. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Kendall Crawford says:

    W. E.Garrison is/was my grandfather. Thanks to your link I have at last read the whole book. An observation passed on from my mother (WEG’s daughter) was his relating that when the brakes failed coming down mountains in the alps he braked by wedging his foot between the frame and the tire; this worked somewhat — but resulted in his needing to have new soles put on the shoes enroute because they had worn through the soles.
    We lived in different cities so I didn’t have much face-to-face — but he never lost his intellectual curiosity — which I believe was directly related to “Wheeling Through Europe”.

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