SCOTTISH ENGINEER William Brunton, formerly superintendent of engine manufacturing at Boulton & Watts’ Soho Manufactory, built a steam carriage called The Mechanical Traveller. It was also described as a steam horse, because while it was mounted on wheels it was propelled by two legs (called propellers) ending in broad, spiked feet. It took steps of 26in and weighed in at less than 2½ tonnes. Throughout the winter of 1814 The Mechanical Traveller earned its keep at the Newbottle Colliery, trudging up and down a 1:36 slope at 2½mph; it was said to have the tractive power of four horses. Brunton relied on his wrought iron boiler to handle a pressure of over 400psi—the following year it blew up, killing 13 people.

The Mechanical Traveller, aka the iron horse, more than a century before Ariel used the legend cheval de fer.

AS IF ONE walking steamer wasn’t enough, Thomas Tindall of Scarborough patented a hybrid with a steerable wheel up front, four legs to move it along and two wheels at the back which could be powered for tackling hills or hauling heavy loads. It also featured a windmill, driven by exhaust steam as well as the wind, for extra power.


JOSEF BOZEK of Prague built a steam carriage. Bozek sat in front, a copper boiler at his feet, steering the vehicle with a tiller. Although the two-cylinder, ½hp, steam engine produced very little power and the limited boiler capacity necessitated frequent stops it ran well enough for its inventor to persevere. He staged a public demo as a fund raiser but there was a thunderstorm and in the confusion someone stole the gate money. This upset Bozek so much that he gave up on road transport to concentrate on horology.

This is a contemporary image of Bozek’s steamer in action.
For the bicentenary of Bozek’s demo run this replica was built and driven in Prague.


CONCERNED BY THE DEATHS and injuries caused by exploding steam engines Reverend Robert Stirling came up with a hot-air engine. Rotation was caused by heat differentials as air passed between various parts of the engine. It might well have been safer than a steamer, but developed a meagre 2hp.


BARON KARL Friedrich Christian Ludwig Drais Von Sauerbronn, an officer in the Prussian army (with a name like that what else could he be?) designed and built a two-wheeler which he called the draisine (often frenchified to draisienne). It was similar to the celerifere but Von Sauerbronn fitted steering, which had to be A Good Thing. Joseph Niépce (inventor of the Pyreolophore engine in 1806) uprated his hobby horse with an adjustable seating position and called it a velocipede—the name stuck. Mind you the French are still producing hobby horses for nippers which are marketed as Draisines so that name stuck too.

Von Sauerbronn on his draisine followed, in 2003, by enthusiasts on reconstructed draisines on a memorial run in Mannheim.
1815 DRAIS
Karl strutting his stuff: legend has it that he once managed the 16 miles from Karlsruhe to Schwetzingen in just over an hour; he could avarege 7mph on the flat.
Cobbles, tight trousers, iron-shod wooden wheels, no suspension…but an important stage in the evolution of the motor cycle and therefore A Good Thing.


ACCORDING TO CONTEMPORARY newspapers  a draisine hobbyhorse fitted with some kind of steam turbine driving both wheels was demonstrated in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris on 5 April. And who could resist a vehicle called a Vocipedraisiavaporianna?

“Zut alors! C’est un Vocipedraisiavaporiannaist!” The illustration may be mostly the artist’s imagination but it seems a two-wheeled steamer was built in 1818 that might have been power-assisted.

ENGLAND FOLLOWED Germany and France into the bicycle age courtesy of  London coachbuilder Denis Johnson   who, like Joseph Niépce, built an improved version of the draisine  which he called ‘the pedestrian’s curricle’. As well as an

The curricle toured the country.

adjustable saddle Johnson incorporated an elbow rest. Still no brakes, let alone any form of suspension, but it had an elbow rest. Go figure. The curricle featured an elegantly curved wooden frame, allowing the use of larger wooden wheels. Several parts were made of metal, which allowed the vehicle to be lighter than the continental version.  Thanks to Niépce it was formally referred to as a ‘velocipede’, but as Regency dandies started to hurtle about on them nicknames abounded, including dandy-horse, hobby-horse, pedestrian’s accelerator, swift walker and, possibly the most accurate description, boneshaker. Johnson made at least 320 velocipedes, opened riding schools in the Strand and Soho and introduced a dropped-frame ladies’ version. His son John Johnson toured England displaying the machines and giving riding lessons; destinations included Bristol, Bath, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool. Despite all this energetic advertising the hobby-horse craze was over within a year.

Young dandies were taught to handle their new toys in riding schools.
Long before there were open-frame ladies’ motor cycles to suit plucky Edwardian gels there were open-frame ladies velocipedes to suit plucky Regency gels.
A contemporary caricaturist’s view of the dandy-horse craze, entitled “Hobby-Horse Fair”.

RUDOLH ACKERMANN, British agent for German carriage builder Georg Lankensperger, patented the carriage steering system that Lankensperger had designed the previous year.  Ackerman (as it’s now spelt) steering’s geometric arrangement of linkages solves the problem of wheels on the inside and outside of a turn tending to trace out circles of different radii. It is relevant to our story as many early ‘passenger motor cycles’ were forecars with two wheels up front. In recent years this layout has made a minor comeback.


DAVID GORDON, who was working with William Murdock in the Soho works, experimented with compressed air for road locomotives. He also established a society of gentlemen with the idea of forming a company to run a mail coach and other carriages by “a high-pressure steam engine, a gas vacuum or pneumatic engine supplied with portable gas”.

LEEDS CUTLER John Baynes scorned steam in favour of manpower with treadle-operated legs to push a carriage along in the same way as the Mechanical Traveller.

A LONDON coachbuilder named Birch [is it me or does sound like the first line of a limerick?] designed and built a three-wheeler he called a ‘Manivelociter’ which was propelled by a brawny volunteer at the rear moving long hand-operated levers while a driver up front sat back and enjoyed the ride. You can bet Birch took the driving seat. Maybe the lever-mover complained because he quickly built the ‘Trivector’ which carried three, all of whom did a share of the work. And there was plenty of work to go round: the Trivector with its 5ft driving wheels weighed 700lb. It worked though, completing the 54 miles from London to Brighton in seven hours