Scott Hannemann of Sioux Falls, S.D. brought up the rear of the Hendricks Summerfest parade on Saturday, riding a piece of history called a penny-farthing bicycle.
Penny-farthings, also called a high wheel, high wheeler and ordinary, were a type of bicycle first made in the 1880s with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. They were called “penny-farthings” because they looked like an old British penny next to a farthing (quarter-penny). They replaced an earlier “boneshaker” models and were the first to be called “bicycles.”
Hannemann rides a penny-farthing belonging to his father-in-law, James Peterson of Hendricks. The Peterson family originally lived on a farm near Astoria, S.D., and later moved to Hendricks.
“What happened was I fell in love with a girl, the girl I married,” Hannemann said. “Her father had the bike. I started visiting their place in the country and started practicing riding the bike.”
Peterson inherited the bicycle and used to ride it in parades.
“Back in 1900, my great-uncle Peter Torgerson was at the Chicago World’s Fair, and he bought it,” Peterson said. “He rode it around Fish Lake north of Astoria on the dirt roads. My father bought it at the family estate auction, and I’ve had it ever since.”
Peterson said though his father never rode the bicycle, he learned to and used to ride it in parades when he was younger.
Riding a penny-farthing bicycle is a challenge compared to the later “safety bicycle.” With any sudden stop or a pothole in the road, the rider was liable to go over the front wheel, which was known as “taking a header” or “coming a-cropper.”
“I went head over heels a few times riding on gravel roads,” Hannemann admitted. “It happens if you put too much pressure on the front wheel.”
These days, Hannemann rides the bicycle in parades and events in Sioux Falls, Astoria, Hendricks, Brookings, Canby and wherever he’s asked.
“It’s a unique thing, and people get a kick out of it,” Hannemann said.
(Note: Peterson said his family has a note saying Peter Torgerson bought the penny-farthing at the Chicago Worlds fair “around 1900.” However, the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition, also known as The Chicago World’s Fair, was actually held in 1893, which would make the bicycle 120 years old.)