A peek into our collections, one object at a time

Shire Velocipede

August 17, 2011

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Shire Velocipede, 1879 – 1889
Smithsonian's National Musuem of American History

Shire Velocipede, 1879 – 1889

In the 1880s and 1890s, cycling was a popular form of transportation for practical travel and pleasure rides. In the late 1860s, the forerunner to the bicycle was the velocipede, which originates from the Latin words for “swift foot.” The velocipede had pedals on the front wheel but no drive mechanism, such as a chain on a bicycle. The velocipede was a stepping stone that created a market for bicycles, which led to the development of more advanced and efficient machines.

The Shire velocipede was donated to the Smithsonian in 1907. This photo shows Smithsonian curator George C. Maynard with the Shire in 1914, an 1879 model that was a later version of the original velocipede. The machine bears a brass plate marked "J. Shire, Patent allowed May 10, 1879, Detroit, Mich." Patent Office records reveal that John Shire of Detroit was granted Patent 216,231 covering "improvement in velocipedes" June 3, 1879.