The Day a Bicycle Outraced a Train in 1899

Charles Murphy on his bicycle cycling against a train

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Back on a breezy day in June 1899, Charles Murphy, also known as “Mile-a-Minute Murphy,” set out to do something wild.

He was going to race against a Long Island Railroad train over a mile-long stretch to see if he could finish in under a minute, The New York Times reported on its cover at the time.

This wasn’t just for fun; it was a serious challenge and a significant moment in transportation history.

It happened during a time when cars were just starting to become a thing, and it captured everyone’s attention across the nation.

The Gilded Age and the Bicycle Craze

The late 1800s were an exciting time for getting around. Railroads and steamships made traveling long distances a lot faster, connecting the whole country and even different parts of the world.

Meanwhile, bicycles, once just a novelty, became a popular way to get around thanks to the “safety bicycle” invented in the 1880s.

This new type of bike was easier and safer to ride than earlier versions, and it quickly became all the rage in America and Europe.

Charles Murphy, born in Brooklyn in 1870, was a competitive cyclist with a knack for dramatics and pushing limits.

He had already set several cycling records and competed in intense six-day races. Racing against a train was his way of sealing his place in cycling history.

Man Versus Machine

The race took place on a specially prepared part of the Long Island Railroad that was straight and flat, perfect for speeding along. The local people and lots of spectators came to watch this unbelievable spectacle.

Murphy’s bike was equipped with the latest tech, including a specially designed frame and gears. They even laid wooden planks between the train tracks to give him a smooth path to ride on.

When the train whistled to start, Murphy took off, pedaling as hard as he could. The race was tight, with Murphy keeping an eye on the train to judge his speed.

As they approached the finish line, it became clear that Murphy was just ahead. He pushed through and finished in 58 seconds, beating the train and leaving the crowd in awe.

Charles M. Murphy New York Times Cover
New York Times cover 1 July 1899.

Why It Mattered

Murphy’s win was more than just a personal victory. It showed the world what humans could achieve with determination and the right technology.

Newspapers everywhere celebrated his win as a human triumph over machines.

The race led to more improvements in bicycles, like better tires and gears. It also made people think differently about what was possible with technology, portraying the bicycle as a tool for personal freedom and change.

A New Era For Bicycles

Murphy’s bike was at the cutting edge, with a strong frame and gears that let him pedal fast without losing speed.

In contrast, the train, though powerful, couldn’t speed up quickly because of its heavy weight and the time it took to get the steam pressure up.

This race showed how bicycles could be quicker to start and more nimble than trains.

Murphy’s Lasting Impact

Murphy’s race wasn’t just a cool story; it was a symbol of progress and new possibilities, showing that human skill could outdo the giant machines of the industrial age.

It shifted how people saw transportation, making the bicycle a symbol of personal power and a force for change in society.

His story still inspires us today, reminding us that with enough drive and innovation, we can go beyond what seems possible.

Ultimately, “Mile-a-Minute Murphy’s” race against the train is a standout moment in the history of transportation and human effort. It’s a classic example of the human spirit’s ability to take on challenges and redefine what we think is achievable, encouraging everyone to dream big and aim high.

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