Friday, September 14, 2012

Did You Know...about Western Union Couriers?

1911 Western Union messenger boy, Norfolk, Virginia Photo credit: Library of Congress Collection
When I think of bike messengers, I picture the craze of the 1980s in New York City. Riders needed simple lightweight machines, which led to the popular single speed/fixie rage. While this is all good, it's not where delivery by bike got its origins. For that you need to go back to the 1890s when all the world—okay, maybe just the United States and France—was a flutter for two wheels.

Western Union delivery boys began zipping around New York City. It caught on in other regions of the U.S. also. My favorite image is of a boy in 1913 (rights owned.) 

In 1920s Paris, delivery boys plied the streets in hordes, hauling newspapers on front racks, thus the origin of the porteur rack. They also made good criterium racers and enjoyed massive popular support for 50 years.

In the world of cycling it goes to show you that everything cycles (pardon the pun) back around. Thank goodness.


  1. "maybe just the United States and France - was a flutter for two wheels".

    Don't forget the UK Annie...It was a pretty big craze here too....indeed the UK Post Office started using bikes 1n 1880.


  2. I worked as a Western Union bicycle messenger in Greenville SC in 1966 and 1967; i'd be interested in finding out just when Western Union discontinued bicycle messengers. (If anyone can definitely say, i'd appreciate it if you'd drop me an e-mail at

    The most fun parts (and hardest) part of the day was the "Telephone run" - pick up a big envelope of daily data at Bell's offices on North Main Street at 4 o'clock, then ride like hell out to another location on Rutherford Road to make the delivery before 5.


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