The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps made a historic journey
In June of 1897, the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, a group of 23 riders embarked on a journey to travel almost 2000 miles by bicycle. Why?
This ride was slated to prove the practicality of bikes for military purposes on a route. This particular course was chosen for its length, difficult terrain, and extreme conditions across 1900 miles from Fort Missoula, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri. “In the 1890s, the Army was segregated, with most black units serving in the isolated outposts in the West. Fort Missoula, at that time, was home to the 25th Infantry, a segregated black regiment.”
For this journey, the Corps consisted of two squads of 10 black soldiers, a white Lieutenant, white Assistant Surgeon and a white 19-year-old newspaper correspondent. The Corps used Spaulding military bicycles which were made specifically for the trip complete with steel rims and supplied with gear that in total weighted around 32 pounds.
Part of their amazing story is the cyclists’ ability to conquer ever-changing setbacks such as mechanical problems, thirst, hunger, effects of alkali water, loss of sleep and (like Pittsburgh) all imaginable weather conditions.
1900 miles from home
In many of the towns and villages the Corps passed through or visited, they were a unique sighting. Often it was the first time these communities had ever seen black men. The fact that these men were soldiers on an athletic and heroic mission gave their visits a special memorable moment within each community.
After 41 days, the Corps arrived in St. Louis, welcomed by cyclists that rode out to greet them. For days the city would bubble because of the arrival of the Bicycle Corps. A parade to honor the 23 men was sponsored by the St. Louis Associated Cycling Corps and the St. Louis Star wrote that it was ‘the most marvelous cycling trip in the history of the wheel and the most rapid military march on record.’
The next long distance ride of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps was planned to travel from Fort Missoula to San Fransisco. However, an imminent war with Spain meant that the ride needed to be cancelled and the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps was discontinued.
Celebrate Black history Month
Until May 27th, 2018, you can visit the Carnegie Museum of Art Lobby for the display of photos by Teenie Harris. Harris documented thousands of African American soldiers who fought for their country. Click here for more event information.
Visit the BikePGH blog to learn about more Black History Month events in Pittsburgh.
All images: Fort Missoula Museum
Video on the Black Bicycle Corps
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