Thursday, January 12, 2012

Unione Sportiva Italiana, New York, NY

An interesting excerpt from the New York Times about the ethnic cycling clubs that existed in New York City in the early part of the last century with reference to the Unione Sportiva Italiana. Founded in 1908 the USI's existence preceded the first Giro d'Italia by one year.

"In the 1880s and 1890s, growing middle-class participation in cycling led to the formation of hundreds of clubs across the United States. The first to form was the Boston Bicycle Club, created on Feb. 11, 1878. The following February saw a club formed in Buffalo, and the first New York City club came in 1880, also in February (something about the cold seemed to drive riders to associate in those days, perhaps for the warmth of the pack).

As the numbers grew, clubs began to develop along ethnic, racial and class lines. This was particularly true in New York and other urban centers, where recent immigrants divided into Italian, German, Belgian and Irish clubs. There was a Harlem Cycling Club, one for Mongolians and even a Norseman’s club, “which I saw somewhere advertised as ‘limited to the sons and daughters of Harold the Fairhaired,’” said Evan Friss, a doctoral candidate in history at the City University of New York, whose dissertation is focused on this period in the history of cycling.

“I’ve seen references to Chinese, Japanese, Polish — almost every ethnic group,” Mr. Friss said.

Of New York’s early ethnic cycling clubs, one of the few remaining today is the Unione Sportiva Italiana. Founded in 1908, U.S.I. became an important booster for amateur bicycle racing in the city and around the country. Though its storefront clubhouse at 37th Street and Eighth Avenue is long gone, the club organizes rides from its current headquarters in Scarsdale (New York)......

......If some clubs served as a marker social class, others proved to be vehicles for assimilation, said Mr. Friss, offering “an opportunity to participate in what was an American phenomenon. They were wheelmen first, cycling like everybody else.”

For example, U.S.I. sponsored Italian immigrants arriving in America, providing them with “the work which had become required for entry into the United States,” according to Ed Cangialosi, one of the club’s current officers."

Full article here.

Photo: Members of the USI outside its storefront headquarters on Eighth Avenue in 1915; the motorcycles were most likely used for pacing.

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1 comment:

  1. Being Italian American I hear all the stories about 6 day racing at MSG and the racers from Little Italy that took part. I pitched the idea to a reporter and he went with it. I would have like it to be a little more extensive but this is a nice piece featuring USI anyway.