Karl Freiherr von Drais

Prior to the introduction of the first bicycle powered by a chain in the early 1860s, a number of inventors attempted to improve the first designs of the velocipede
Prior to the introduction of the first bicycle powered by a chain in the early 1860s, a number of inventors attempted to improve the first designs of the velocipede

Karl Freiherr von Drais Bicycle Inventor

Known as “the father of the bicycle,” Karl Freiherr von Drais (full name: Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn; 29 April 1785 – 10 December 1851) was a distinguished German forest official and a major inventor during the Biedermeier period. He was born and raised in Karlsruhe.

The Laufmaschine (literally, “running machine”), which was also referred to as the velocipede, draisine (English) or draisienne (French), and which was also known as the hobby horse or daisy horse, was the most well-known and well-recognized invention of Drais. It was the first example of mechanized personal transportation and incorporated the two-wheeler principle, which is fundamental to the bicycle and motorcycle.

Karl’s first known ride took place on June 12, 1817, using Baden’s best road, from Mannheim to the “Schwetzinger Relaishaus” (a coaching inn, located in “Rheinau,” today a district of Mannheim). The round trip took him a little over an hour, and the ride may be considered the big bang for horseless transport. Karl rode his bike an approximate distance of 7 kilometers (4.3 mi).

After the velocipede was marketed, however, it was discovered that the roads were so rutted from carriages that it was difficult to balance on the machine for an extended period of time. As a result, velocipede riders took to the pavements and moved at an excessive speed, putting pedestrians in danger. As a result, authorities in Great Britain, Germany, the United States, and even Calcutta banned its use, putting an end to its vogue for decades.

In addition, Drais created the first typewriter with a keyboard in 1821. He also made the first 16-character stenograph machine in 1827, the first meat grinder in the 1840s, a wood-saving cooker that included the first hay chest, and two four-wheeled human-powered vehicles in 1813 and 1814, the latter of which he presented in Vienna to the Congress that divided Europe following Napoleon’s defeat. In 1842, he created a foot-driven human-powered railway vehicle, whose name “draisine” is still used today for railway handcars.

Karl Freiherr von Drais Time as civil servant

Even though Drais was being paid without performing any work, he was still a civil servant of Baden, which prevented him from commercializing his inventions. On January 12, 1818, Grand Duke Karl granted Drais the grand-ducal privilege (Großherzogliches Privileg) to safeguard his inventions for ten years in Baden. Grand Duke Karl also named Drais a professor of mechanical science, an honorary title that had no connection to any university or other establishment. Drais retired from the civil service and was granted a pension for his appointment.


In 1822, Drais was a fervent liberal who supported the revolution in Baden; his conservative father, as the highest judge of Baden, had not entered a plea for pardon in the beheading of Karl Ludwig Sand, and the younger Drais was mobbed by the student partisans everywhere in Germany because of his family ties. In 1820, trouble befell Drais when the political murder of author August von Kotzebue was followed by the beheading of the perpetrator, Karl Ludwig Sand.

As a result, Drais left for Brazil, where he resided from 1822 to 1827 and worked as a land surveyor on Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff’s fazenda. He then returned to Mannheim in 1827, where he remained until 1830, when his father passed away and the younger Drais was attacked by envious rivals.

After escaping a brutal attack in 1838, Drais moved to the Waldkatzenbach village in the Ostenwald hills in 1839, where he stayed until 1845. It was during this time that he invented the railway handcar, which would later be known as the “draisine).” Finally, he returned to his birthplace of Karlsruhe in 1849, still a fervent radical, giving up his title of Baron and dropping the “von” from his name. Later, when the revolution collapsed, he found himself in a precarious situation, with the royalists attempting to have him declared insane and imprisoned. His pension was taken away to help cover the “costs of the revolution” after the Prussians put an end to it.

Drais’s undoing had been the fact that he had publicly renounced his noble Karl Drais’s downfall came from his 1848 public renunciation of his noble title and adoption of the name “Citizen Karl Drais” in honor of the French Revolution.

Drais passed away in poverty on December 10, 1851, in Karlsruhe; his last residence was only two blocks from the home where a young Carl Benz was raised at the time. in 1848, and adopted the name “Citizen Karl Drais” as a tribute to the French Revolution.

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Karl Drais’s birthday, West Germany issued a commemorative postage stamp in 1985, a semipostal 50 Pf+25 Pf surcharge. In 2017, Germany issued a commemorative postage stamp (0,70 Euro) in honor of the 200th anniversary of Karl Drais’s first run of his “running machine” on June 12, 1817. The stamp features the machine along with a bicycle as its shadow.


  • Bicycle: The History – David V. Herlihy [ISBN 0300120478]
  • The Golden Age of Bicycle Racing in New Jersey – Michael C Gabriele [ISBN 1596294272]
  • The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle – Frank J. Berto [ISBN 1892495597]
  • The Bicycle: The Myth And The Passion – Francesco Baroni [ISBN-13: 978-8854403369]


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