The Bicycle
The Draisine (1817) (source)

The first bicycle-like invention was the 1817 Draisine. It appeared in Germany, patented in France in 1818. It was named after its inventor, Karl von Drais, a German state forester. It was made of wood, had no pedals, and was moved by alternating feet pushing on the ground. However, it had a padded seat and a pivoted front wheel controlled by a sort of rudder. The name "velocipede" derives from "swift walker." It was was less a serious mode of transportation and more for recreation by the wealthy.

The introduction of a bicycle predecessor in the US was made by M. Stewart of Baltimore, followed  in 1819 by David and Rogers, manufacturing in Troy, New York (who made a total of three velocipedes.) On 26 June 1819, the first US patent for a "velocipede" was issued to William K. Clarkson, Jr., also of New York. Unfortunately, an 1836 fire destroyed at the Patent Office its patent record, and since it was never restored, but scant information remains on this machine.

It was not until 20 November 1866 that the first US patent was issued for a bicycle to Pierre Lallement (No. 59,915). The word bicycle was coined in 1868 to designate the then-new two-wheeler with pedals, and the term has always implied a two-wheeler with pedal drive.


The Bicycle Museum of America site describes and illustrates the further development of the bicycle with photographs.

Reference: Historical First Patents, by Travis Brown (1994)

Revised 12/29/02 based on information received from David V. Herlihy, Boston. Reference to an early sketch by Leonardo daVinci was removed, since that is now in doubt. Reference to a French "dandy horse" of 1791 was also removed.