Kirkpatrick McMillan invented the bicycle in 1840 and I would like to tell you a little story about how it happened.
In the early 1800s, the first set of McMillans emigrated from Scotland to Canada. I am certain that they left behind the parents of Kirkpatrick McMillan. Kirkpatrick was born in 1813 at the parish of Kier, several miles from the City of Glasgow. By that time, this writer's ancestors had settled down on farmland some 50 miles north of Toronto.
"Pate," as Kirkpatrick was known to his fellow townspeople, grew up learning the trade of a blacksmith. Always mechanically inclined, Pate constantly sought to improve things. As a result, the local people thought he was a little unbalanced or "not quite right." If it worked for their fathers and mothers, why wasn't it good enough for Pate?
Applying himself to the work of being a blacksmith, Pate developed the use of a crank in the shop to turn a grinding wheel. Out of years of experimentation came the first bicycle. It did not just happen. One day, a gentleman brought a "hobby horse" to the blacksmith shop for repair. Looking similar to the first bicycle, the "hobby horse" was propelled like a scooter, using legs to push it along the way. There were no pedals. A Frenchman by the name of DeSivrac has been credited with building the first bicycle without pedals back in 1690. Copying the "hobby horse", Pate went about trying to improve the design.
The "velocipede," as it was called, became the bicycle of today. With a high front wheel and a pedal contraption connected by a crank to the rear wheel. It was not comfortable to ride. The wheels were made from wood with iron tires. It took another Scottish inventor, John Dunlop, to invent the pneumatic or air-filled tire in 1886 ¬ thus smoothing out the ride.
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 greet him. He was surely "the devil on wheels." The pressure of the crowd caused him to run down a little girl. While she had only a scrape on her leg, the excitement caused her to cry out. As a result, Pate and his machine were taken to the local police station. The next day, Pate was charged with obstructing the Queens Highway and with having driven a "velocipede to the detriment of her lieges." At first, the judge could not believe that Pate had traveled some 40 miles in only five hours. After a great deal of explaining, Pate was allowed to return home.
Whether it was the humiliation of his court appearance or some other personal trait, Pate never tried to capitalize on his invention. He died being largely unknown outside of his own country. But, in 1892, the secretary of the Glasgow Cycling Club credited Kirkpatrick McMillan with the invention of the bicycle or the "geared dandy horse" as it was known by some.
The next time you see a bicycle coming down your street or feel the wind in your face while pedaling around the neighborhood, I hope you will remember Kirkpatrick McMillan.