The velocipede: its history, varieties, and practice, J. T. Goddard (1869)

Among those who distinguished themselves on the velocipede in England was Michael Faraday the chemist, who frequently drove his machine through the suburbs of London.

The velocipede was cultivated most assiduously for some little time by the sporting gentry of England ; but Lord George Bentinck and other persons of fashion finally pronounced so decidedly against it, that it descended to the vulgar level of a plaything for young people and ceased to be regarded in any other light than that of a toy or hobby. While the fever lasted, a shoemaker of London made much money by the manufacture of a strong shoe, soled with iron, which greatly aided the feet of the ” Velocipeders,” as they went over the ground. William Howitt, in his “Visits to Remarkable Places”, a book published in 1841, makes mention of the velocipede as follows — the passage is taken from a description of Alnwick Castle, the ancient seat of the Percy family:

“Among the curiosities laid up here, are also two velocipedes, machines which twenty years ago were for a short period much in vogue. One young man of my acquaintance rode on one of these wooden horses all the way from London to Falkirk in Scotland and was requested at various towns to exhibit his management of it to the ladies and gentlemen of the place. He afterward made a long excursion to France upon it. He was a veryadroit velocipedean and was very much amused with the circumstance of a gentleman meeting him by the river side, who, requesting to be allowed to try it and being shown how he must turn the handle in order to guide it, set off with great spirit, but turning the wrong way, soon found himself hurrying to the edge of the river, where in his flurry, instead of turning the handle the other way, he began lustily shouting ‘Woh!’ ‘woh!’ and so crying plunged headlong into the stream. The Duke’s horse, which is laid up here for the gratification of posterity, was, I believe, not so unruly; yet I was told its pranks caused it to be disused and here stabled. It is said that the duke and his physicians used to amuse themselves with careering about the grounds on these steeds; but one day being somewhere on the terrace, his grace’s Trojan steed capsized, and rolled over and over with him down the green bank, much to the amusement of a troop of urchins who were mounted on a wall by the road to witness this novel kind of racing. On this accident the velocipede was laid up in lavender and a fine specimen of the breed it is. I asked the old porter if the story was true, but he only said, “Mind! I did not tell you that. Don’t pretend to say, if you write any account of this place, that you had that from me.”

The machine was introduced into New York in 1819, where it was given the English name of “Hobby-horse” or “Dandy-horse”. The excitable citizens went into an ecstasy of astonishment and delight and the manufacturers found it impossible to meet the demand. A place was opened for their exhibition near Bowling Green and people used to run on them up and down the Bowery and the hill that led from Chatham Street to the City Hall Park. The rage for them soon extended throughout the country; and we hear of them in Philadelphia, Yonkers, Troy, Saratoga and Boston. At Troy in the fall of 1819, a firm, Davis and Rogers, manufactured a number of machines and used to let them to the young bloods about town, at twenty-five cents an hour. In Boston they became quite common and, moonlight nights, students from the classic shades of Old Harvard could be seen running them across the long bridge into the city. In a New York paper of those days we find an interesting account of a newly invented velocipede for ladies then building “by a distinguished artist.” “It is to have beams or bodies on springs and four wheels which will insure its safety. It is to quarter on the road like other carriages; and with four impellers it is supposed it will proceed with astonishing rapidity; but its peculiar recommendation is to be conveyance of two ladies and two impellers at the rate of six miles an hour.” The “Ladies Literary Cabinet” (published, corner Chatham and Duane streets), of Saturday, August 9, 1819, gives a very amusing account of a hoax which seems to have completely deceived the citizens:

The velocipede: its history, varieties, and practice, J. T. Goddard (1869)


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