Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Shayla . Shayla Wonders, “What is the history of bicycles?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Shayla !
All kids struggle with different things. For some kids, the desire to explore and move about the world freely is a constant battle. It's such a drag needing an adult to ferry you around the world. Why can't you just get your driver's license when you're 12?
If you're an enterprising youngster, though, you probably figure out how to get yourself where you want to be on your own. Even without being able to drive an automobile, there are a few modes of transportation available to you.
Of course, you can walk or run if you don't need to go far. You could also hop on your skateboard. The vehicle of choice for many kids, however, is the bicycle. And it's been a handy transportation tool for some time now. Let's take a look at how the bicycle came to be.
For such a seemingly simple invention, the bicycle has a rather long and convoluted history. Most historians trace its origin back to 1817, when a German aristocrat named Karl von Drais invented a wooden, two-wheeled machine that riders propelled forward with their feet.
Known by various names, including Draisienne, dandy horse, and hobby horse, his invention became popular in both England and France, where it eventually became known as the velocipede. Unfortunately, they were eventually banned as a danger to pedestrians and were rarely seen after the early 1820s.
Things were quiet for several decades until bicycle development took off in the 1860s. An important milestone in the development of the bicycle happened in Paris in 1863 when pedals were added to the front axle.
This development occurred in Pierre Michaux's workshop, but it's unclear whether he or his employee, Pierre Lallement, should be given credit for the innovation. Lallement moved to the United States, where he obtained a patent for "improvements in velocipedes" in 1866.
These new machines proved to be popular, and the name "bicycle" had come into use by 1869. However, many people referred to them as "bone shakers," which described their clunky ride due to the fact that they featured a heavy wooden frame and steel wheels.
The 1870s saw new designs and innovations. "Ordinary" bicycles, also known as "high wheelers" or "penny-farthings," became popular. They featured a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. They could be dangerous, though, if riders had to stop suddenly, as they would "take a header" when their momentum carried them over the front wheel onto their heads.
Eventually, English inventor John Kemp Starley designed a "safety bicycle" with two small wheels of equal size, a chain drive, and a set of gears. Add in pneumatic tires and better brake systems in the following decades and bicycle production skyrocketed to over one million bicycles by 1899.
Mass production of bicycles increased their popularity greatly, since they became affordable for the average person. Over the course of the 20th century, manufacturers continued to improve the features and design of bicycles as new technologies emerged.