I was listening to a Car Talk rerun on KPBS over the weekend, and the puzzler made me think of you. The challenge was to identify a particular nineteenth-century veterinary surgeon, or his invention that revolutionized bicycle construction in its time. “Here’s a hint,” they said. “If I gave you his name, you’d know the answer.” Well, I actually bothered to think it through, rather than just Googling the answer, and I managed to solve the puzzler of my own accord, of which I am somewhat proud even if it was largely an informed guess. Why am I telling you all this? Because the answer was John Boyd Dunlop, inventor of the pneumatic bicycle tire. Why does that matter? Because I want to know if you would consider John Boyd Dunlop a proto-hipster. Seriously. I know Wikipedia isn’t exactly an authoritative biography, but there’s more than enough information there for you to see what a hipster he was, at least in my estimation. Read about him and get back to me, please.
— Margo, Hillcrest
First, let me say that I consider it extremely hipster of you to attempt trivia with only your unaided mind. Not so long ago, the hipster thing to do would have been to extract your iPhone from the snug pocket of your favorite skinny jeans and declare, “Let me just look that up” with the smug certitude due an early adopter of emerging technologies. Smartphone fact-checking has become fairly commonplace, so now it is much more hipster to rely on one’s own faculties when faced with a vexing trivial matter. How the times change!
As for Mr. Dunlop, I checked him out. His heroically manly beard and impeccably curled mustache would let him blend seamlessly into the crowd at any local craft-beer bar. Not only did he contribute to the early evolution of the bicycle — which everybody knows is the hipster’s favorite conveyance — he did so before it was cool, even going so far as to relinquish control of his company before he made any real money off his game-changing idea. Apparently, Dunlop spent his whole life convinced he would suffer from grave illnesses if he failed to exercise great caution, so we can safely speculate that he would have feared gluten and GMO produce (which is actually a divisive issue among hipsters, but that’s beyond the scope of this paragraph) if he had been born about 150 years later.
If I had to give a ruling, which I suppose I do since you asked so nicely, I’d say you have a solid candidate for proto-hipsterhood on your hands!
All this consideration of historical hipsterdom gives me a fantastic idea. From here on out, I’ll be accepting nominations for the Historical Hipster Hall of Fame. Suitable historical figures — famous or otherwise — should be submitted to [email protected] for objective review by our panel of anonymous, hipster judges. Deliberations will be made and successful inductees announced via “Ask a Hipster.” Potential nominees may still be given honorable mention in the column, even if they don’t warrant inclusion in the official Hall of Fame itself.
Good luck to you, hipsters of history.