In 1889 the New York Times published this article about shoe shining and steam.
The day has long since gone by when a man, to have his shoes made things of refulgent beauty, was forced to lean against a fence or balance himself on one foot and have a youth of tender years prod his bunions with a wellworn brush.
Now the shinee reposes in a luxurious armchair in a room cooled by revolving fans in summer and heated by a rotund whitewashed stove in winter while a man of mature years and good judgement coaxes his boots into ebony loveliness with an oiled cloth and a well kept brush.
The quality of the shine has wonderfully improved; the unaffected and funereal black polish that faded generally to a pale and mottled grey tint before the boot it covered had moved two blocks away has been succeeded by a glittering and attractive ebony lustre that lasts sometimes for two days.
image by Eric Kroll
It would seem as if in this line of trade “improvement could no further go” but an enterprising firm of coloured gentlemen in 6th Avenue went one better a few days ago when they flung to the winds in front of their parlour a sign reading “Shoes Shined by Steam While You Wait“
In 1867, Sylvester Howard Roper was also harnessing the use of steam when he put together a boiler, a steam engine and a bicycle to form what he called a ‘motocycle’
Roper designed and built a wide range of products including sewing machines, guns, machine tools, furnaces, automatic fire escapes and eventually steam-powered carriages and bicycles. His steam-powered bike proved popular at exhibitions but his neighbors weren’t thrilled with the contraption due to it being noisy as well as smelly. The motocycle would often spook horses and tended to annoy those walking the streets. Roper was once arrested on one of his rides, but was released when no laws could be cited that he was breaking.
Roper’s last steam-powered bicycle included a one-gallon water reservoir and provided about 8 miles of travel on one filling. On test rides into town, Roper would remove the burning coals from the firebox and place them in a small covered bucket. This would keep steam from being generated and maintain the heat in the coals. When he was ready to leave, he would re-stoke the fire, get up steam, and return home.
The steam bicycle was perhaps never a practical means of transport. Problems of carrying enough water and fuel paled in comparison to the prospects of having a boiler, operating at nearly 300 degrees Fahrenheit, between the rider’s legs.