February 8, 2016

In the late 1800s a federal holiday was established to honor George Washington's birthday. Nearly 100 years later, the observance was moved from the actual date - February, 22 - to the 3rd Monday in February.

In those hundred years the holiday also evolved to include Thomas Jefferson and/or Abraham Lincoln, depending on what state you're in when you ask. As a result it's still informally known as Presidents' Day, or Presidents Day, or even President's Day, also depending on who you ask. Confused? Here's what matters:

In the 1890s Washington's Birthday was also Bicycle Day.

Coney Island, NY 1896

Instead of foot parades down center streets, there were bicycle rides and races for men and women dressed in fancy new riding clothes. And while most businesses were closed, bike stores were open with gilded pomp and circumstance. It was viewed as the "first day" of the bicycle selling season. Frame builders and retailers competed with open houses, fantastic displays, live music and more, to attract customers and show off new models.

"At the Tinkham Cycle Company... every customer took home a lily bulb to plant; the owner of the handsomest and tallest flower could redeem it for a hundred-dollar bicycle come June."

When the century turned over however, America's bicycle craze deflated. As time went on and the motorcycle and automobile grew in popularity and decreased in price, each appropriated the holiday's sales. The theme of personal mobility was retained - motorcycles and cars - but the travel mode changed dramatically. The humble bicycle just couldn't compete with the shifting zeitgeist and rapid industrialization of the early 20th Century.

Today Washington's Birthday has been completely captured and commercialized by the auto industry. Red, white and blue advertisements, and cars draped in stars and stripes, boost weekend sales as much as 25%.

Our founding fathers slow jam for auto sales

If you're lucky enough to get the 3rd Monday in February off from work, have a slice of cherry pie, sing happy birthday to old George, and ride your bike. Hopefully history will repeat itself.

h/t The Atlantic