Friday 7 March 2014

Nicéphore Niépce and the Vélocipède

Nicéphore Niépce (né Joseph Niépce; Chalon-sur-Saône, France, 7th March 1765 – Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France, 5th July 1833)

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

As you know by now, there is little that fires me more than gadding about the Georgian world, quill in hand and quizzing glass at the ready. Now, much as I am wedded to my phaeton, I do have a few chums who swear by an invention that came from the imaginative mind of Nicéphore Niépce, our guest today. Niépce is the gentleman behind the vélocipède  a form of transport for the more intrepid sort, though it is most unsuited to petticoats!

In Germany in 1817 Karl Drais invented the laufmaschine, a form of two wheeled transport similar to the modern bicycle. Also known as the dandy-horse, the vehicle was propelled by the rider pushing their feet on the floor as though walking, though each step covered far more ground than would be possible without the vehicle. As a result of these exertions the laufmaschine rider happily glided along, no doubt feeling quite the picture of modernity!

The vélocipède
The vélocipède

Niépce was most taken by the laufmaschine when he saw it in 1818 but this intrepid innovator was certain that he could improve on the work of his German counterpart. Using the work of Drais as his starting point, he built himself a new device that he named the vélocipède (fast foot). Unlike the laufmaschine, the vélocipède had an adjustable saddle and could therefore easily accommodate most riders in relative comfort, providing they didn't stray too far from smooth paths! He even thought about motorising the vélocipède, dreaming of happily cruising the roadways of France on two wheels and travelling over terrain that the rider-propelled version could not hope to negotiate.

The vélocipède was not Niépce's most significant invention but it took my fancy today in honour of a friend who is devoted to his bicycle come rain or shine. Happy birthday Niépce!


Unknown said...

Interesting. Laufmaschine is running machine. What amazing innovation and foresight these people had!

Catherine Curzon said...

Very much so!