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How Velocipede Carousels Work


What Started the Velocipede Carousel?
Fashionably dressed men take lessons at Johnson's Pedestrian Hobbyhorse Riding School in the Strand, Westminster, London, 1819. The hobbyhorse was the forerunner of the bicycle.
Fashionably dressed men take lessons at Johnson's Pedestrian Hobbyhorse Riding School in the Strand, Westminster, London, 1819. The hobbyhorse was the forerunner of the bicycle.
Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images

No one knows for sure when the very first velocipede carousel was created, although it was around the mid- to late 19th century [source: The University of Sheffield].At that time, foot power was gaining popularity. Back in 1817, Germany's Karl Drais had invented a precursor to the bicycle called a running machine, hobby horse or Draisine, among other names. A heavy wooden contraption, it featured two wheels in alignment, a seat and steering mechanism akin to today's handlebars. There was no drivetrain; people operated it by pushing along the ground with their feet [source: Hoefer]. In 1863, the "bone shaker" debuted, more bicycle-like in that the front wheel sported pedals so riders' feet didn't touch the ground. A few years later, in 1870, the "high-wheeler" was unveiled. With a giant front tire and tiny back one, this looked less like today's bikes than the bone shaker, but was the first machine to be called a bicycle. It was also the first to sport rubber tires [source: Mozer].

It was this era that birthed the velocipede carousel. But not simply to jump in on the bike craze of the day. Its creation was supposedly due to Parisians and their love of horses. At that time, Parisians still loved getting around via horse. Despite the bicycle's growing popularity around the world as an alternate mode of transportation, Parisians weren't cottoning to the idea of stabling old Nellie so they could cycle around town instead [source: Palermo].

But authorities wanted them to try. The world was rapidly modernizing, and the use of horses in large cities was pretty much a thing of the past. Horses continually pooped in the streets, for one thing. Plus they attracted flies, could be smelly and were getting in the way of modern conveyances such as trolleys and cable cars. Bicycles, on the other hand, were a clean form of transportation, thus more preferable.

But the Parisians were wary of the new "bicyclettes," and nervous about riding the wobbly things. To encourage them to give it a try, the velocipede carousel was unveiled. Carousels were popular and fun and safe. Get Parisians to climb aboard a beloved carousel tricked out with pedals, and they would soon see how safe and fun riding a bicycle could be [source: Rohan]. Whether or not velocipede carousels truly helped move Parisians from the saddle to the, er, saddle, may not be known.But horses did disappear from the streets of Gay Paree, and Parisians did grow to love bicycles and bicycling. The country hosts the Tour de Franceevery year, after all, and it finishes along Paris' Champs-Élysées, probably the world's most famous avenue.


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