Eugene Debs Really Loved Bicycles

Here’s a summer story you never knew you needed: an 1895 article by Eugene Debs waxing poetic about bicycles, which he said would “liberate millions” and bring “the enrapturing panorama of nature” to all.

Bicycling in the country, 1942. (Wikimedia Commons)

The mission of the bicycle is greatly underrated. Human ingenuity, in evolving the bicycle, has given man a mighty boon. It is to play a great part in the world’s affairs. It is to liberate millions from the thralldom of foul atmosphere, squalid and filthy apartments, and all the multiplicity of debauching and demoralizing conditions that make the lives of workingmen and women in manufacturing and commercial centers a continuous curse. It is to be an important factor in depopulating cities and building up the country.

It will be a mighty leveler upward and downward. The bicycle will attack the fabulous value of city real estate, distribute population, lower rent, close up the tenement den, and extinguish the sweatshop hell. It will free the inhabitants of cities from the fetid odors their overcrowded conditions generate and pour a perpetual flood of fresh air upon the race. As a matter of course working people will have them and the man who trudges to his daily toil will be an object for a relief commission.

Eugene Debs, 1894. (Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)

The limits of an interview will admit only the merest glimpse of the possibilities of the bicycle. The great health-giving advantages of fresh air and exercise, will by the fiat of the bicycle, be the heritage of the race. The bicycle, not the medical profession, will triumph over disease. The wheel is on the trail of Consumption and will overtake and vanquish the remorseless destroyer. Men and women and children will all ride the bicycle and the enrapturing panorama of nature will no longer be forbidden glories to most of the race.

Of course, the bicycle is yet in embryo. The wheel of the future will revolve to suit man’s fancy and the variety, design, and capacity will be practically without limit. And when monopoly and special privilege are abolished, the bicycle may be purchased for a song and will be within the reach of all. The world will yet revolve on wheels.