Grassroots organizing. Alternative transportation. Greenways and parks. Many components of contemporary political campaigns seem to have been borrowed from the platforms and strategies that worked well in Indiana in the 1890’s. A key factor in the successful presidential bid of William McKinley in 1896 was the “wheelmen” or cyclist vote, which was particularly formidable in the Midwestern battleground states. Both McKinley and his Democratic opponent William Jennings Bryan attempted to woo the emerging cohort of bicycling aficionados and manufacturers who were organized into political clubs. McKinley not only promised road improvements and protective tariffs (which would limit the import of foreign bikes), but co-opted wheelmen into literally carrying his campaign message far and wide. Cyclists also served as escorts at parades and rallies. One hundred Indianapolis cyclists surreyed former President Benjamin Harrison to Union Station, where he set off to stump for McKinley in October 1896. The four hundred members of the Fort Wayne cycling club were equally helpful in presidential and gubernatorial campaigns that autumn. Political pedaling became increasingly popular, as evinced by the growth of Terre Haute’s Republican bicycle club—from 163 to 850 members over the course of October 1896.
Having helped power McKinley into office, the Indiana bicycle lobby was subsequently courted by Indianapolis mayor Thomas Taggart, who won a second term in office by improving roads, acquiring large tracts of park land, and securing the contract to host the annual League of American Wheelmen convention in 1898.