Thomas McCall Scottish Cartwright

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

Thomas McCall

Prior to the introduction of the first bicycle powered by a chain in the early 1860s, a number of inventors attempted
Thomas McCall

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, which were first made public by Pierre Lallement, Pierre Michaux, and the Olivier brothers in France. These “Boneshaker” bicycles created a great deal of hype for this new mode of transportation in France and throughout Europe, but their design was far from ideal.

Due to the obvious inefficiencies in positioning the rotary crank and pedals on the hub and axis of the front wheel, numerous inventors worldwide began formulating schemes for transferring the force from the pedals back to the rear wheel.

Thomas McCall Scottish Cartwright

The first successful attempts at this happened in 1869, when Scottish cartwright Thomas McCall (woodworker skilled in making wagons, carts and wheels made from wood and metal) managed to create several versions of the velocipede that featured levers and rods tossing a crank on the rear wheel. This design enabled easier transfer of force to both wheels, providing a better riding experience than French boneshaker bicycles.

The public first became aware of Thomas McCall’s bicycle designs when wealthy corn trader James Johnston began marketing them as the creation of his uncle Kirkpatrick MacMillan. This promotion was probably carried out with McCall’s permission, as he was in financial need at the time, and he used two of his older models to create a new and improved replica, which Johnston then marketed as Kirkpatrick MacMillan’s complete invention.

Modern historians, however, have discovered numerous errors in the tales that James Johnston propagated, attributing the creation of the first bicycle driven by a back wheel to its real owner, Thomas McCall.

The Dumfries Observatory still displays a replica of this enhanced velocipede design that Thomas McCall created for Kirkpatrick MacMillan to the general public.


References

  • 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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