Pierce Miller Bicycle Collection
About the collection
The vintage bicycles depicted here are from the Pierce Miller collection owned by the University of California in Davis. Pierce Miller was a rancher near Modesto with an avid interest in the history of transportation. He amassed over one hundred horse-drawn vehicles of every description, a handful of antique automobiles, and a large collection of bicycles. Miller exhibited the vehicles and bicycles in a roadside museum of transportation history until his death in the 1960s. In the 1940s, Miller purchased the entire bicycle collection from Walter Nilsson, a well-known vaudeville performer whose stage specialty was acrobatic bicycle and unicycle riding. Nilsson collected the bicycles while on tour around the world with his cycling act.
The University bought the Miller Collection in 2000 when it became available for sale. A federal Transportation Enhancements grant was the primary funding source.
UC Davis, the City of Davis, and an avid group of cycling and history enthusiasts are looking for a permanent exhibit space for which the Miller collection will provide the core of what is planned to be a major bicycle museum.
The collection encompasses almost 100 years of bicycle evolution between the 1820s and the early years of the Twentieth Century. During this time, bicycles evolved from pedal-less "swift-walkers" to machines that would scarcely turn a head on today's roads and paths.
In the 1880s the bicycle became the first form of affordable personal transportation beyond walking that was efficient and accessible by men, women and children alike. While the automobile eventually came to dominate land transportation in the U.S., the bicycle literally paved the way for its success. Many early auto manufacturers got their start in the bicycle industry. The League of American Wheelmen's "Good Roads Movement" in the 1880s improved roads for cyclists around the country. When the first "horseless carriages" took to the streets, they found the bicyclists' smooth routes to be ideal for their own use.
The Miller bicycles allow us to marvel at the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the tinkerers, mechanics, inventors and engineers of the Nineteenth Century who brought to perfection "this slender, whippet thing of steel and rubber that carries a man far and fast by his own glad effort, on the open road, and takes him away from his cares as nothing else can."