In the summer of 1890, two young Americans, William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen, Jr., set off to circle the globe on bicycles, which are familiar to us today but at the time were heralded as innovations in safety because of the instability of the common “high-wheelers” of the era. Three years later, after pedaling some 18,000 miles on three continents, their harrowing tales of adventure made them international celebrities (“the greatest travelers since Marco Polo,” by one glowing account).

Their timely championing of the bicycle helped to spark the great bike boom of the mid-1890s, which would transform cycling from an elitist, male-dominated pastime into a wildly popular means of recreation and transportation for all. Along the way, Sachtleben and Allen chronicled their adventures with two novel compact Kodak film cameras, signaling a new “democratic” era for photography, as well.

The exhibition features a selection of these striking images, taken from a year on the road visiting Greece, Turkey, Persia (today Iran), and a portion of the Russian Empire (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). The images vividly convey what the two adventurers experienced as they pedaled across barren dirt roads, river crossings, mountain passes, and volcanic terrains, encountering peoples and cultures entirely foreign to them. The scenes of everyday life also reflect how the locals—many of whom had never before seen a Westerner or a bicycle—reacted to them and to the state-of-the-art technologies that were destined to change ancient ways of life.

Admission Information

Admission to this exhibition is free and open to the public

Hours

Tuesday – Friday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday – Sunday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays

Photography

Photography of the exhibition without flash is permitted.

Press Release

Houston, Texas, April 30, 2015 — In the summer of 1890, two young Americans, William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen, Jr., set off to circle the globe on new-fangled safety bicycles. Three years later, after pedaling some 18,000 miles across three continents, their harrowing tales of adventure made them international celebrities. Along the way, Sachtleben and Allen chronicled their adventures with two novel, compact Kodak film cameras, heralding a new “democratic” era for photography.

Round Trip: Bicycling Asia Minor, 1891, opening at Asia Society Texas Center on May 16, 2015 features forty-two circular, black and white photographs taken by the cyclists and reproduced from recently scanned negatives held by the UCLA Library Special Collections. The exhibition features four of the countries Sachtleben and Allen toured, arranged chronologically: Greece, Turkey, Persia (Iran), and the Russian Empire (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). Approximately ten images have been selected from each country and enlarged to twenty inches in diameter. Their accompanying captions are based on Sachtleben’s meticulous notes, written on the envelopes that contained each original negative.

The photographs vividly convey what the two adventurers experienced as they pedaled across barren dirt roads, river crossings, mountain passes, and volcanic terrains, encountering peoples and cultures entirely foreign to them. The scenes of everyday life also reflect how the locals — many of whom had never before seen a Westerner or a bicycle — reacted to them and to the marvelous technologies that were destined to change ancient ways of life.

Sachtleben and Allen’s remarkable feats helped transform cycling from an elitist, male-dominated pastime into a widely popular means of recreation and transportation for all. Sachtleben eventually brought his records of the journey with him to Houston, Texas, where he settled down and managed the Majestic Theater for many years. Allen lived in Kirkwood, Missouri, and became a noted engineer.

Round Trip: Bicycling Asia Minor, 1891 is organized and circulated by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and co-sponsored by the UCLA Library Special Collections. The exhibition is guest curated and the accompanying catalogue is written by David V. Herlihy, author of The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Support for the exhibition was provided by Lee Bronson, Shirley and Ralph Shapiro, and Sukey and Gil Garcetti. The accompanying publication was generously funded by the UCLA Library Special Collections.

Major support for the exhibition at Asia Society Texas Center is provided by Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Mary Lawrence Porter, the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, Nancy C. Allen, Nancy and Robert J. Carney, The Clayton Fund, Reinnette and Stan Marek, and anonymous friends of Asia Society. Lead funding also provided by Leslie and Brad Bucher, Holland and Jereann Chaney, The Favrot Fund, and Dorothy Carsey Sumner. Funding is also provided through contributions from the Friends of Exhibitions, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.

The exhibition at Asia Society will be on view through September 27 in the Center’s Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall. A special preview of the artwork will be held on Friday, May 15 from 4:00 - 6:00 pm. Admission is free and open to the public.

 

Download the press release here.

Related Programs

Guest Curator Talk with David Herlihy
Saturday, June 20, 3 pm
Guest curator David V. Herlihy discusses the fascinating story of two young Americans who celebrated their graduation from university with a grand adventure in Asia in the 1890s.

Outside In: Travelers in East Asia, A Conversation with Dr. Chiu-Mi Lai
Wednesdsay, August 12, 6:30 pm
Dr. Chiu-Mi Lai will discuss the cultural outsider in 19th and 20th century East Asia, as it relates to the experiences of William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen, Jr.

Exhibition Catalogue

 

An illustrated catalogue is available for sale for $20 ($17 for members) at Asia Society Texas Center while the exhibition is on view. Please inquire with the Patron Services team during your visit.

The catalogue is written by guest curator David V. Herlihy, author of The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Bicycle: The History (Yale University Press).

Credits

Round Trip: Bicycling Asia Minor, 1891 is organized and circulated by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and co-sponsored by the UCLA Library Special Collections. Support for the exhibition was provided by Lee Bronson, Shirley and Ralph Shapiro, and Sukey and Gil Garcetti. The accompanying publication was generously funded by the UCLA Library Special Collections.

Major support for the exhibition at Asia Society Texas Center is provided by Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Mary Lawrence Porter, the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, Nancy C. Allen, Nancy and Robert J. Carney, The Clayton Fund, Reinnette and Stan Marek, and anonymous friends of Asia Society. Lead funding also provided by Leslie and Brad Bucher, Holland and Jereann Chaney, The Favrot Fund, and Dorothy Carsey Sumner. Funding is also provided through contributions from the Friends of Exhibitions, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.

City of HoustonHouston Arts Alliance

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