The Finish of a Pioneering Coast-to-Coast Bicycle Relay Race

September 8, 1896

In New York, what was technically the final leg of an ambitious and unprecedented transcontinental bicycle relay race took place when two bicyclists departed the southern tip of Manhattan known as the Battery for the U.S. Army post at nearby Governors Island at 1:55 p.m. A.H. Hand and Annie St. Tel, each operating bicycles rigged in catamaran attachments, began pedaling across New York Harbor to get to Governors Island so that they could deliver a leather packet containing a message for the Army’s Atlantic Division commander there. The message, which was from the commandant at the San Francisco-based Army post Presidio, had been steadily transported from one bicyclist to another across the United States.

As they pedaled across New York Harbor, Hand and St. Tel were followed by the steamboat Evelyn. The bicyclists were about 100 yards (91.4 meters) from Governors Island when St. Tel encountered rough waves and had to signal for help from the Evelyn. One of that vessel’s rowboats then towed St. Tel and her water bicycle for the remainder of the journey. After he made his way to shore on Governors Island, a now-exhausted Hand gave the packet to Lieutenant F.W. Fuger.

While this Tuesday afternoon delivery marked the last segment of the cross-country bicycle relay race, the effort formally came to an end the day before when  Fred J. Titus and O.S. Brandt pedaled to the New York Journal office on Park Row in New York City by 3:29 p.m. to present the packet that had traveled all the way from the west coast. Along with containing the message to be delivered to Governors Island the following day, the packet also included a message from postal officials in San Francisco to New York City’s postmaster; that message was given to him in front of the large crowd gathered outside the New York Journal office.

The bicycle relay race was the first coast-to-coast event of its kind. This race was sponsored by the New York Journal and San Francisco Examiner, both of which were owned by publisher William Randolph Hearst, and it began on August 25 at the intersection of Market Street and Grant Avenue in San Francisco. Ten-year-old Clotilde Devaney and her nine-year-old brother George, riding a tandem bicycle, departed from that location at noon with the packet.

The 3,385-mile (5,447.6-kilometer) route consisted of 220 stages of two-person teams of bicyclists each transporting and then handing off the packet. (The above illustration depicts a crowd cheering on bicyclist Johnny Green as he rode on a portion of the route in Wyoming.) The total time for the race between its start in San Francisco and official completion at the New York Journal office in New York City was 13 days, 29 minutes, and 4⅕ seconds.

For more information on the 1896 New York Journal-San Francisco Examiner transcontinental bicycle race, please check out San Francisco Call – End of the Relay Race



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