The Fourth of July bicycle race between LA and Santa Monica was held from 1891-1902. The seventeen-mile race did not follow the same route each year. In 1898, it was run in the opposite direction, from Santa Monica to Los Angeles. The starting point eventually moved out of Downtown to avoid traffic. The Santa Monica end of the race was, for a few years, at Third and Utah (today’s Third and Broadway). It always passed through Los Angeles’ early suburb, The Palms.
The Los Angeles Herald‘s July 5, 1895, report is as good as any in capturing the passion for bicycle racing that overtook the area every July 4th. The reporter as breathless in his account as the riders must have been:
From the Train
At the Finish
Race winner Emil Ulbricht (1864-1900) was as an agent for Thistle Bicycles. Some reports referred to him as “The German” since he was born there. The most famous Thistle racer was world champion Tillie Anderson.
The 1895 Santa Monica Race’s slowest rider, or “limit man” (see glossary), Thomas E. Rowan, Jr., was featured in the Herald article’s illustration (also found at the top of this page) and in a Fowler Bicycles advertisement next to the Herald article. Fowler touted the 18 ¾ pound bike’s strength for holding up to the 239-pound Rowan, even when “Tom sustained a hard fall coming down the Palms hill.”
Luthor Ingersoll’s Century History, Santa Monica Bay Cities (1908) looked back on the bicycle phenomenon – including the Santa Monica Race:
Articles about the Santa Monica Race (and other races) include:
December 7, 1930, Los Angeles Times (“Many a local wheelman still remembers the annual road races form Los Angeles to Santa Monica, inaugurated one Fourth of July in the early ’90s” “The first ‘century run,’ as the 100-mile ride was called, was a yearly event here, as in other parts of the country. The trip had to be finished in not more than twenty-four hours and the recognized course extended from Los Angeles to Pomona, thence to Santa Monica and back to the city.” “Annual relay races from Los Angeles to San Diego . . . were important occasions.” “Wheelmen contended for such valuable prizes as pianos, furniture, bicycles, medals, jewelry, etc.”)