19th Century Cameras and Bicycles

Today on the blog I'm going to explore a little bit into the relationship of bicyles and photography back during the early days of photography. A time when bicycles were not light, and camera gear was not simple or compact. Lets start with this advertisement for a camera to mount of one's penny farthing bicycle from 1887.

Scovill's Amateur Specialties - Photographic Outfits for Bicyclists.

Scovill's Amateur Specialties

Photographic Outfits for Bicyclists.


So popular has amateur photography become among wheelmen, that the two amusements are now often combined. The Camera allows unbounded opportunities to the amateur bicyclist to gather choice landscape views.


Consisted of a 3 1/4x4 1/2 "Pocket" Camera, with Double Dry Plate Holder, with Patent Registering Slides and Hinged Ground Glass. This Camera weighs only 12 ounces.


The "Pocket" Bicycle Camera weighs only 12 ounces.

PRICE ... $12.00


This has no loose pieces, and is so accurately made as to have no side play.



Consisting of a 3 1/4x4 1/2 Finely Polished Mahogany Camera, with Swing Back, Vertical Shifting Fron, Hinged Ground Glass, Folding Bed, with Patemt Latch, Rack and Pinion Movement (Front Focus).

A Universal Joint Bicycle Attachment.
A Morrison Bicycle Lens, pronounced by authorities on optics to be without a peer.
A Camera Saddle Bag lined with flannel, to prevent marring of the fine finish of the camera.

Price of "Mignon" Bicyclist's Photo-Outfit Complete, $50.00
Without Lens, $25.00

With the lenses just described, sharp pictures can be obtained which will make fine transparencies and lanrertn slides, or the can be nelarged up to 8x10 size.

My first thought of looking at this picture is that such a handlebar setup must be a nightmare to compose and focus with. Especially given the very flow emulsions photographer were dealing with in the 19th century. It seems that others of this time period would also agree, as a similar sentiment against handlebar mounted cameras is expressed in this 1897 essay about combining bicycling and photography.


The bicycle is come to stay, not only for business purposes and cheap transportation, but as a blessed means of recreation to countless townspeople, who are cooped up in their work-rooms during the day, and can only enjoy an outing during the evening and on Sunday. The immense popularity which the bicycle has enjoyed during the past year has caused manufacturers to vie with each other in the production of various appliances to the "steel pony" and the outfit of the cyclist. One of the latest additions to the cyclist's equipment is the bicycle camera. I am aware of the fact that a bicycle camera was on the market for many years, but it was not as practicable as the latter invention, which may be called perfect.

I have seen two bicycle cameras, both of the same pattern and both marvels of compactness. They are of the folding kind, 4 x 5 in size. and fit in a small leather case, in which there is also room for two or three plate-holders. This case can conveniently be attached to the frame of the "machine," just behind the tool case, where it is out of the way and does not interfere with the legs. It is also provided with straps, so it can be carried on the back if preferable. These cameras retail at a reasonable price. They are not cheap, but they are well made and serviceable.

It is not my purpose, however, to call attention to the cameras only, but to dilate upon the advantages which they offer to amateur photographers who own a wheel. By means of the bicycle the amateur is enabled to reach scenery which is inaccessible to the ordinary traveller, and to take photographs of beautiful landscapes that are out of the reach of the average amateur photographer. The greatest gems may be found out of the beaten track.

Mayhap our photo-cyclist is an industrious clerk who shoves a quill all day long in a dingy city office during the week. But Sunday finds him on the road before sunrise. He reaches his destination in the coolness of the morning, spends the day in angling, photographing the pretty girls and perpetuating beautiful landscapes, and returns home in the evening when the sun is no longer terrible. On reaching his room he takes a cold sponge bath and then enjoys a sound sleep, and the morning finds him back at the office in the pink of condition, while the other clerks look jaded and worn. During the following evenings he develops the plates he took on the Sabbath, revives the beautiful sights he saw, and recalls the experiences he had, and thus lives over again the day he spent so happily. And when winter comes, he has a batch of interesting photographs to show for his summer's work.

I believe the average amateur lacks incentive. He wants some stimulant to make him work and to call forth his best efforts. And I believe that a bicycle will furnish this incentive. It will take him to scenes that he will itch to photograph, if he takes the slightest interest in the art-science.

I disbelieve in the common practice of fastening the camera on to the handle-bars, of focusing, and then steadying the bicycle with one hand while an exposure is made. That will do well enough for snap shots, but it will not do at all for time-exposures. It is a much better plan to carry a compact tripod strapped to the handlebars and to use that when necessary.

The Photographic Times: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Interests of Artistic and Scientific Photography. Vol 29. January, 1897

By mentioning putting all the gear under the seat, it seems that he would no longer be referencing the big wheel penny farthing bicycles of the first advertisement I posted, but a bicycle of the same proportions that we still use today.

By 1897, Kodak had already introduced a full line of cameras and camera cases targetted at cyclists riding the more modern bicycle design like we still use today. In addition to the modern bicycles, Kodak also pushed a cartridge camera system for cyclists. Smaller compact cameras that used roll film that can be loaded in daylight. Neatly enough, this roll film was only four years prior to the format of roll film that I still use today when I go photographing via bicycle.

Bicycle Kodaks - 1897

When the cycle paths lie deep with snow; when the steed of steel has been carefully put away for the season, when the leafless trees bow before the wintry blast and the night wind whistles weirdly in the chimney till its moan dies away in a ghostly cadence—tis then that the cycler in his cozy corner by the glowing fire lives over again his pleasant days awheel. Once more he is out among the fields, flying upon his air-shod steed along a smooth stretch of road, or lolling lazily beneath the friendly shade of a giant oak. He smiles quietly as he recalls his struggles with a punctured tire, the seemingly endless hills which he climbed under a blazing sun—time leaving to his memory only the humorous side of his mishaps and softening their hardships. Regretfully he sighs as he recalls the fact that he has nothing but his poor unreliable memory to bring back those pleasant scenes. No pictures of the river with which he grew to be so friendly in his rambles awheel along its banks—no pictures of its quiet pools, its rippling runs or roaring rapids. No pictures of the quaint inn where he stopped to dine or of the quiet village street—no pictures of the green fields, the quiet cattle contentedly chewing the cud as they stood mid-leg in the limpid brook and no pictures of the friends whose gay companionship added so much to the pleasures of his outings. Each winter he has resolved that another summer he would add a camera to his outfit, but when the riding season has opened the inconvenient size and shape of the cameras, their bulky accessories, the trappy methods of attaching them to the wheel have discouraged him, and another summer slips away with no suitable mementoes of his wheeling trips.

But in 1897 he will carry a camera—a Bicycle Kodak. The Bicycle Kodaks are so light as to add no preceptible weight to the wheel and for 1897 we have prepared a line of carrying cases for them that are light, convenient and practical. They are the result of a long series of experiments, are made to withstand wear and tear and have been given severe tests on all kinds of roads.

The cameras for which they are made are of the latest models and are all constructed on our Film Cartridge System by which they can be Loaded in Daylight. For all tourists they are the best and most convenient cameras made—for the wheelman they are the only practical instruments.

A roll of film for 12 exposures weighs but a few ounces, where an equivalent in glass plates would weigh pounds, it may be carried in the pocket without the inconvenience and being as flexible as paper it cannot break—an obvious advantage over glass plates.

Bicycle Kodaks. Eastman Kodak Company, 1897
Kodak Style B Bicycle Case - 1897

Category Vintage Media  | Tags: Bicycles