Scotland: Birthplace of the Bicycle

Besides inventing the self-propelled bicycle, Scots also invented the raincoat (Charles Macintosh of Glasgow), the modern road (John Macadam of Ayr), tyres (John Boyd Dunlop of Dreghorn), adhesive stamps (John Chalmers of Dundee), the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell born in Edinburgh), so without Scots, bike messenging would not exist.

Two wheeled vehicles that were pushed along ala Fred Flintson were invented previously, but the actual wheel-propelled bicycle that we know and love was invented in1839 by Kirkpatrick MacMillan of Scotland. He was a blacksmith at Courthill Smithy of Keir Mill, Dumfriesshire. Since he never patented his invention, his bicycle was rapidly and widely copied.

Macmillan was born at Keir in 1812. Fellow villagers thought him 'mad' for dreaming up an idea such as the first pedal-driven velocipede. But, although known locally as 'Daft Pate', he became in 1839 the inventor of the pedal-driven bicycle, used by millions today.

He rode his cumbersome machine 68 miles over rough roads from his tiny smithy home (still intact today) to Glasgow, visiting his two school teacher brothers in the city. In June 1842 the inventor was fined 5 Scots shillings for speeding at 8 mph into the Gorbals and knocking down a little girl in the crush that awaited this 'Devil on Wheels'. The magistrate at the Gorbals Public Bar was sufficiently impressed to ask Macmillan for a figure-of-eight demonstration in the courtyard, and is said to have slipped him the money for the fine.

Having raced the stage coach on his return to Dumfriesshire, Macmillan went back to the quiet life, but his invention was copied and an English firm put it on sale at seven pounds. Macmillan's early machine, still seen in reproduction at the Transport museum in Glasgow's Kelvin Hall, met demand for easier travel. It had wooden wheels and iron-band tyres, and was so heavy (57lbs) that he pushed off by striking the ground with his feet, protected by iron-spiked boots.

He married Elsie Gordon Goldie at Keir in 1854. They had six children between 1855 and 1864. He was one of the characters of 19th century rural Scotland. His son, John Macmillan of Liverpool who became a policeman in that city, told how his father, a keen churchman, refused to let the family even read on a Sunday. He pulled teeth for both horses and humans and was a popular fiddle-player at weddings. He died on 26 January 1878 aged 65, and the plaque on his smithy home reads 'He builded better than he knew'. "

The first bicycle as we know it -- that is a bicycle with transmission and front wheel steering -- was produced by a Scottish blacksmith called Kirkpatrick Macmillan in the village of Thornhill near Dumfries, Scotland. There is controversy over whether he invented it in 1838 or 1840. But last year the Kirkpatrick MacMillan Festival was held in Drumlamrig Castle near Dumfries. Today there are 800 million bicycles in the world -- of which 300 million are in China. Worldwide, bicycles outnumber cars by three to one.

Illustration by the Confectioner

Kelvin Hall, I, Bunhouse Road, Glasgow, Strathclyde

Open: Mon-Thurs, and Sat. 10.00-17.00, Fri. and Sun. 11.00-17.00
Admission: free
Phone: 0141 287 2720.

This mecca for transport enthusiasts mirrors sixty years of Glasgow trams and the glory-days of the River Clyde. The museum interprets the history of transport on land and sea, and the exhibits range from trains to buses, from trams to Scottish built cars and from yachts to warships. There are horse drawn vehicles, railway locomotives, fire engines, bicycles and motor cycles. One of the star attractions is a simulated Glasgow street with 1938 shop facades and period vehicles parked on the cobbles. There is a reconstruction of Merkland Subway Station on the Glasgow Underground the third oldest underground network in the world. There is a showroom of cars through the ages, and the cycle display's centrepiece is the world's oldest pedal bike, invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan. There are models of ships reflecting the Golden Age of shipping: ocean liners, paddle steamers and sailing ships. Full facilities for disabled people are available, as well as a sitdown cafe.


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