Karl Drais and the Mechanical Horse

Karl Drais’ Laufmaschine

On April 29, 1785, German inventor Karl Drais was born, who invented the Laufmaschine (“running machine”), also later called the velocipede or draisine, also nicknamed the dandy horse.

Karl Drais became a teacher in a small town near Heidelberg, Germany in 1805 and only six years later, he was released of his duty to focus on his ideas and inventions he already had in mind. To his many inventions belonged a recording machine for pianos, and even one of the first typewriters with 25 keys, also he is credited with inventing the haybox, a cooker that used the heat of the cooked food to complete the cooking process.

However, Karl Drais is rather known for inventing the Laufmaschine, also called running machine. Already in 1813, he developed a device equipped with four wheels, but unfortunately it was rejected by German officials. In 1816 the year without summer, also known as ‘Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death’ appeared after the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Nearly all countries of the northern hemisphere suffered from hunger, bad harvests and illnesses. Many horses died because food became rare and expensive. As Hans-Erhard Lessing later proved, Karl Drais continued working on his running machine in 1816 to support the people who’s transportation depended on horses.

And indeed, his invention was quite successful and substituted for many the use of horses. The first ride on the ‘draisine’ became famous and he completed a distance of 7km with an approximated average speed of 15km/h. He began organising public events where people tried out his machines and two years later, he was granted the patent (well, something comparable) for the Laufrad.

After some years, further inventions advanced the development of the bicycle as we know it today and Karl Drais began applying his mechanisms to rails. In 1842, he tested his mechanical rail-bicycle for the first time in Karlsruhe. Later versions of this inventions depicted for instance the hand-lever draisine, which became famous in animated movies or in Jule Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days‘. In Germany you can still ride all kinds of draisines since many shut down rails are used for Drais’ invention as tourism attractions.

Karl Drais is remembered as the remarkable inventor of the bicycle precursor. His hometown Karlsruhe followed the inventors’ example and became known as extraordinary bicycle friendly and Drais himself even was promoted the Roman Catholic Church’s patron of the cyclists.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short video by David Herlihy on the development of 2-wheeled human-powered transportation.

References and Further Reading:

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