Death of James Starley (1881)

Death of James Starley

There has just been laid in his last resting place the man to whom we are indebted for the beautiful piece of mechanism which is such a wonderful improvement upon the old form of bicycle. Like many other inventors, James Starley was of humble birth and got but little schooling. He was the son of a poor Sussex agriculturist and his early life was chiefly passed in field work. But he was of an inventive turn and later-on he found congenial occupation in devising improvements in sewing machines and other implements. Settling at Coventry as foreman of a company of machinists he, a dozen years ago, set about remodelling the antiquated French bicycle, a few specimens of which, with their cumbersome wooden wheels and rude contrivances for steering, are still to be seen. This “bone-shaker,” as it was called, bore about the same relation to the modern “spider” as the punt of a Dutch lugger does to a university racing boat. Mr Starley did something more than improve upon the “bone-shaker.” He practically invented a new machine, in which some of the highest principles of engineering are brought into operation in order to secure a large increase of speed, reduction of weight of material and great strength and elasticity. Only those who have a practical acquaintance with mechanics can properly estimate the difficulties which Mr Starley had to overcome and the rare powers of invention he displayed in bringing the bicycle to its present state of perfection. The spider wheel is constructed on the principle of the suspension bridge and in the hands of an expert it gives a speed of about twenty miles an hour. Its popularity for locomotive purposes is rapidly on the increase and in its improved form it is likely to remain an institution in the land. Mr Starley had lately been employed in perfecting a tricycle, which is safer and more easily managed than the two-wheeled “vehicle,” and he had faith that at some not distant day these machines would almost supersede carriages and saddle horses. Now that electricity promises to supply a cheap and handy motive power, it is possible that the dream of the Sussex ploughboy may be realized and that bicycles and tricycles may be made to travel without muscular exertion and at a rate of speed almost equal to that of an ordinary railway train.

Liverpool Mercury etc, June 25, 1881


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