Friday, 01 July 2011 00:00
The bicycle was invented back in 1840, and I want to tell you the story about how it happened. Interestingly, the inventor was a McMillan – probably a distant ancestor of mine.
Kirkpatrick McMillan, the inventor, was born in Kier Parish, several miles outside of Glasgow, Scotland in 1813. By that time, most of my ancestors had left Scotland and settled on farmland some 50 miles north of Toronto.
“Pate,” as Kirkpatrick McMillan was known to his townspeople, grew up learning the blacksmith trade. Always mechanically inclined, Pate constantly tried to improve things with his skills. As a result, the locals thought Pate was somewhat unbalanced – or “not quite right.”
Pate, in his blacksmith shop, developed the use of a crank to turn a grinding wheel. Out of his years of experimentation with the crank came the evolution to a bicycle. And it did not happen overnight. One day a neighbor brought a “hobby horse” into Pate’s shop for repair. The “hobby horse” had wheels and was propelled like a scooter, using legs to push it along the way. There were no pedals.
Pate copied the hobby horse and wanted to improve the design. He came up with a high front wheel and a pedal contraption connected by a crank to the smaller rear wheel. The wheels was made of wood and the new “hobby horse” was not very comfortable to ride.
It took another Scottish inventor, John Dunlop, to invent the pneumatic or air filled tire in 1886 – thus smoothing out the ride.
Now, back to Kirkpatrick McMillan. Pate decided, in 1842, to visit his brother in Glasgow. As Pate approached the Village of Gorbals, a huge crowd turned out to see him on the “velocipede,” the name given for his bicycle invention. He was called “the devil on wheels. Pressure from the large crowd caused him to run over a little girl.
While the injury was only a scrape on a leg, the excitement caused her to cry out. As a result, Pate and the velocipede were taken to a local police station. The next day, Pate was charged with obstructing the Queens Highway.
Before a judge, Pate explained his trip. The judge, at first, could not believe that Pate had traveled over 40 miles in under five hours. After a great deal of explaining, Pate was allowed to return to his home.
Whether it was humiliation from the accident, his court appearance or some personal trait, Pate never tried to capitalize on his invention. He died being largely unknown outside of Scotland. But, in 1892, the Glasgow Cycling club credited Kirkpatrick McMillan with the invention of the bicycle or the “geared dandy horse” as it was known by many in Scotland.
The next time you see a bicycle coming down your street or feel the wind in your face as you pedal around the neighborhood, I hope you will remember Kirkpatrick McMillan.