Across Niagra on a bicycle – Blondin in 1869

Across Niagra on a bicycle

This feat was announced by Professor Jenkins to be accomplished on the 25th August and accomplished it was, in the presence of a vast crowd. A thousand feet of good two-inch rope stretched across the stream below Suspension-bridge and where Blondin crossed with a man on his back. The New York Times says: – ‘The machine used by professor Jenkins is not in any sense a velocipede. It is, however, a bicycle, and turned upside down would resemble in some degree a modern velocipede. The wheels, three inches wide, are made heavy and of wood, without tyres, but in their places are groves an inch and three-quarters deep. The front wheel is 3ft. 2ins and the hind wheel 2ft. 10ins in diameter. The connecting rods are iron, so also the balance-pole, which is 8ft long and tipped with 10-pound balls and weighs 28lb. The whole thing, with the man thrown in, weighs 298lbs. The propelling power is a pinion cog-wheel made of brass, about nine inches in diameter, which is made to gear the cogs which surround the front wheel at the bottom of the groove. At 2: 30 pm the professor made his appearance at the small house on the Canadian side with the pieces of his machine and at once proceeded to put them together, a task of no small labour. With the aid of his men he first placed the fore wheel on the rope just at the edge of the precipice and while one man balanced it, another placed on the standard from the underside, thus bringing two strong bars of iron on either side of the rope. All the joints were securely fastened with bolts. The braces or connecting rods extending from the standard to the rear shaft in the form of the letter O made the connexion complete and very strong. The professor then got outside of the rope, arranged the pinion wheel and fastened the balance-pole across the O part of the braces. This done, the seat, a strip of leather, was secured to the rear axle by a means of straps. This arrangement, which it was seen at once would throw the entire weight of the machine and the rider under the rope, was source of disappointment, if not of relief, to many of the spectators, who, not consulting the inventive genius of the Canadian Blondin, rather expected to see him mounted on a Greenwood velocipede, which of course, would give a good chance for ground and lofty tumbling. All being in readiness the bicycle was fastened by a rope to the bank, and Jenkins prepared to start. He wore white tights, black-velvet knee-breeches, shoulder straps and cross-belts of the same material, and on his head was placed a crown-shaped hat, and all were profusely bedecked with tinsel and beads. His feet were covered with buff moccasins. He took his position astride the rope, and proceeded to arrange the leather strap or seat, which, as it was allowed to touch the rope, seemed more for the purpose of protecting the velvet parts from damage by attrition than to sit upon. In fact, he did not sit, but stood up with his feet about eighteen inches apart, resting on the balance pole. In a moment he grasped the handles of the pinion wheel and turned them, moving slowly from the bank, the crowd preserving a death-like stillness. After passing out a few yards a halt was made and the photographers were allowed to take his picture. He then returned and waited five or ten minutes and resumed his seat. Three pistol shots were then fired from the Canadian side, and it was a ‘go.’ The machine moved slowly forward, the rope swaying gently from side to side until he had passed out about 50ft., when another opportunity was given the artist, after which he crawled along at a snail’s pace to the middle of the abyss, where he raised waived his hat and received a faint cheer in response. From the centre to the American shore it was evidently hard work to propel the bicycle, but at last the edge of the cliff was reached and then the welkin did ring with the applause of the people. The time occupied in passing over the rope was just eleven minutes.

(The Times, Sep’ 10, 1869, p. 9, Col. F)


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