Girls In Orchard With Bikes

“Girls In Orchard With Bikes” is a short excerpt from “The Wheels of Progress,” a 1927 film on the benefits of public roads for personal motor transportation. The film was produced by the US Department of Agriculture Bureau of Public Roads.

The film starts with the way things were in 1897, when ladies idly rode their bicycles to the orchard to pick apples, workingmen walked to work, and vendors carted produce, meat and poultry in on horse drawn carts from the farm 20 miles away. Living close to work was the “big idea” because everybody walked or biked to get around.

Fast forward to 1927. Workers can now live far from the factories and offices and drive to work, heavens to Betsy! The “sedate lady of the 90s” who inspired haiku poetry as she picked apples with her girlfriends has become “the modern American woman” who drives to her job. Farmers with trucks have a huge competitive advantage over their neighbors who persist in using old fashioned horse carts. Buses extend the capabilities of existing rail transit by providing transportation on good roads to those new-fangled “suburbs.” Cut to President Coolidge riding in a car, then the businessman. “Everybody rides!” Even the Negro in the slums with his large family and the Indian smoking his pipe by his teepee has a car, by golly!

And the thing that makes motorcars so beautiful are good roads, built with public funding through the administration of the Bureau of Public Roads and the US Department of Agriculture.

These days, people are so thoroughly sick of some roads the US Department of Transportation recently awarded $16 million to New Haven, Conn. to tear down a highway.

The full film is about 15 minutes and the pacing is slow, but it offers an interesting glimpse into the perspectives of 1920s America.


  1. =v= I love these historical bits. Back in 1999, some friends of mine put together a great presentation about the role of bicycles in the liberation of women:

    Chris Carlsson noted that the same rhetoric of freedom surrounded the introduction of the automobile. The depiction of the “modern American woman” here is certainly an example of that.

    (It wouldn’t be the last time somebody commodified a struggle for justice to market something bad. “Eve” cigarettes for women were the 1970s version.)

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