Father of the Bicycle and Who Invented It

There is controversy over who invented the bicycle. Some people claim it was a French carriage maker and blacksmith named Pierre Michaux. Other people assert it was Michaux’s son, Ernest. Still other people maintain it was not Michaux or his son, but rather another Frenchman entirely. His name was Pierre Lallement and he lived near Nancy, France, in 1862 and repaired baby carriages. Thus, because of the disagreements over who invented the bicycle, Pierre Michaux, his son Ernest, and Lallement, have all at one time or another been called the “father of the bicycle.”

The draisienne. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Pierre Michaux was known to provide parts for carriages in Paris during the 1850s and 1860s. It was reported in 1855, Ernest discovered in his father’s shop a draisienne, a steerable, two-wheeled, human-propelled railway vehicle. The draisienne, also known as a “dandy horse ” — a contraption that was the forerunner to the bicycle and so named because dandies tended to ride it — had been invented in 1817 and patented in 1818. Ernest was intrigued with it and was so determined to ride it, people maintained he invented the crank and the pedal, and he perfected them by 1861. Therefore, proponents of Ernest call him the “father of the bicycle.” (The sketch below is of Ernest and is a reproduction of a photo taken of him in 1868 with a velocipede.)

Father of the bicycle - Ernest Michaux

Ernest Michaux. Author’s collection.

A similar story credits Ernest’s father, Pierre Michaux, as the “father of the bicycle.” In this story it is claimed Pierre began working with pedals in the early 1860s and perfected them. By 1868, the elder Michaux formed a partnership with the Olivier brothers under the name Michaux and Company. It was under this company that the bicycle was mass produced. At the time it was known as a velocipede and often referred to as the “boneshaker” because it had an extremely uncomfortable ride with its stiff frame and wooden wheels.

Michaux’s bicycle. Author’s collection.

A third story about the invention of the bicycle credits Pierre Lallement as being the “father of the bicycle.” Reportedly, in 1862, while in Nancy he noticed someone riding a draisienne and saw the rider was required to propel the vehicle by walking. Lallement modified the draisienne by attaching pedals and adding a rotary crank mechanism. In 1863, Lallement moved to Paris and interacted with the Oliviers, who then formed a partnership with Pierre Michaux to build a bicycle.

Father of the bicycle - Lallement's Bicycle

Lallement’s bicycle. Author’s collection.

Thing get murky from there as to whether it was Lallement’s design, Pierre Michaux’s design, or Ernest’s design that Olivier’s mass produced in 1868. What is clear is that Lallement left Paris in 1865 for America. While in America, he received a patent for his bicycle in 1866. He then returned to Paris shortly before the Michaux “bicycle craze” began in 1867 or 1868. Lallement then went back to America because of patent infringements sometime before 1880 and died in obscurity in 1891.

Today, the controversy continues. For most historians, the greatest weight as to the inventor of the bicycle seems to be with Ernest Michaux. That is because he is recognized as being the first person to attach pedals to the dandy horse and thus is credited with inventing the bicycle. However, not all historians agree. Some maintain Lallement is most responsible and that he deserves the title, “father of the bicycle.” 

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