Bicycles reach the U.S.

If you were to browse a collection of antique machines from the early 18th century, do not be surprised to find one that looks like a wooden bicycle without pedals. It was not intended as a decoration or a toy — German inventor Karl Von Drais created the Laufmaschine as a mobility aid during a period when there was a shortage of horses. A century later the invention was somewhat improved upon and popularized by a Londoner named Denis Johnson. Largely due to his marketing bicycles came to be in widespread use.

On this day May 21, in 1819 the first bicycle in the U.S. was seen in New York City. Alternately called “velocipedes,” “swift walkers,” “hobby horses” or “dandy horses” for the dandies that most often rode them, they had been imported from London that same year.

Pedal and chain bicycles of today came from the invention of Pierre Lallement of Nancy, France, who saw one of the dandy horses in a park and was inspired to add a transmission to it. After a brief stint manufacturing them in France, Lallement decided to move to the U.S. There, with James Carroll of New Haven, Connecticut as his financier, he filed the earliest U.S. patent for a pedal bicycle.