Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

Project Gutenberg has a number of issues of a late nineteenth century magazine called The Great Round World and What Is Going On In It. As the title of the Manhattan-published magazine promised, each issue told boys and girls about things that were happening in the great round world. Because today is May 13, 2021, let us revisit the May 13, 1897 issue of the magazine. We do like 1897 magazines, after all. The penultimate section of the issue – not counting the advertisements – is titled “Invention and Discovery.” We will look at one of the two inventions and discoveries – a basket that one can attach to the front of a bicycle to hold newspapers.

Invention: A Newspaper Rack for Bicycles

The Great Round World published an illustration of a “useful and sensible” attachment for bicycles:

1897 depiction of a bicycle with a newspaper rack on the front for paperboys, touted as a new invention in "The Great Round World and What Is Going On In It"
Clipped from the 1897 magazine

A newspaper rack for bicycles. Handy.

The magazine noted that the rack, which hung over the bike’s front wheel, was “intended for use on newspaper routes.”

Why was this invention needed?

According to the The Great Round World, newspaper delivery systems were inefficient in 1897 and earlier:

Newspaper dealers have to arrange the delivery of the daily papers into routes, much in the same way the postmen do the letters they carry, and a great many boys are employed to carry these papers about. It takes a long time to walk over the route, and it would save the newspaper dealers a great deal of time if they could find a better means of delivering their papers, than the employment of so many small boys.

A small boy can only carry so many newspapers. Furthermore, he can only walk so fast. Bikes with cages to carry a large number of papers do sound efficient. The Great Round World suggested that the bikes could curb the employment of boys to some degree:

With the newspaper rack for bicycles the dealer himself will be able to do more than half the work, and save himself money, as well as the anxiety lest his boys are not doing their work properly.

Newspaper Racks

While I confess to not being a paperboy expert, it does appear that newspaper racks on bicycles took their place among the paperboy newspaper carrying methods. For example, in 2014, Chicago’s Daily Herald posted a very nice obituary for Marvin Teel, a 90-year old World War II veteran who was delivering newspapers on his antique Schwinn bicycle until his final day. In the picture of Mr. Teel in the article, you will note that he had a newspaper rack on the front of his bicycle much like the one pictured in the 1897 magazine.

Yet other bicycle paperboys, like the young man below pictured in Ontario in 1940, carried their papers in bags.

Photograph of a young paperboy in Ontario, Canada, on his bike with a bag full of newspapers, in 1940
Ruddy, Marjorie Georgina (1908-1980), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Others, like these three young brothers pictured in Tampa, Florida, in 1913, continued to carry their newspapers on their routes.

Photograph of three young paperboys posing with their newspapers in Tampa, Florida, in 1913
Hine, Lewis Wickens, No Known Copyright Restrictions, Courtesy of the Preus Museum via Flickr

I would be remiss to omit mention of the definitive source on all things paperboy. The protagonist in the iconic Paperboy video game used what appears to be a newspaper bucket – similar to the newspaper rack – to carry his newspapers.

Many methods for paperboys carrying papers persisted during the long paperboy era. While it seems that the bicycle newspaper rack did not fully supplant other methods of carrying papers, I concur with The Great Round World that it was a sensible idea.