Practical Origins of the Tall Bike: gas lamp lighting & flood travel

by Eric Shalit on January 29, 2011

Record Manufacturing Company Giraffe Lamplighter’s Bicycle, 1898. Sold at auction by Sotheby's in 2001. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: $24,000 USD

From the auction catalog: “The seat height of this unusually tall bicycle is over 7′ tall, and this feature directly relates to the bicycle’s important function. During the late nineteenth century it was used by lamplighters to light gas street lamps. The inordinately long chain is more than three times the length of a conventional bicycle chain. Currently only one other lamplighter bicycle is know to exist, designed and manufactured by a different maker. This original bicycle features black paint, wood rims, 28″ single-tube tires and is correctly restored.”

Wikipedia says: “Historically, one of the first practical uses of the tall bike was as a late 19th century lamp lighting system, by which a worker would mount a specialized tall bicycle while equipped with a torch for lighting gas lamps. As the worker rode to each lamp, they would lean against the lamp post, light the lamp, and then ride to the next. Upon completing the circuit of lamps, an assistant would help the rider dismount.”

In Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire, England The Clark Brothers in the 1950s built tall bikes to get to work when it flooded. These bikes they called ‘Flood Bikes’. They have been on BBC TV and did a Welsh language programme on them.”The bikes could have been up to 20 feet tall,”said one of the Clark Brothers. The film clip below is not one of the Clark Brothers bikes, but shows the concept in action.

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