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Kirkpatrick MacMillan



Kirkpatrick Macmillan was a Scottish blacksmith who was given credit for inventing the rear-wheel driven bicycle in a bizarre campaign by a relative, a rich corn trader and tricyclist named James Johnston in the 1890s. MacMillan lived in Glasgow and worked at the Vulcan Foundry during the relevant period around 1840, not at the family smithy Courthill.

Johnston's articles stated that he completed construction of a pedal driven bicycle of wood in 1839, and that it had iron-rimmed wooden wheels, a steerable 30 inch (760 mm) wheel in the front and a 40 inch (1016 mm) wheel in the rear which was connected to pedals via connecting rods. The entire machine weighed 57 lb (26 kg). Johnston connected him with a Glasgow Newspaper clip of 1842 that a gentleman was fined 5 shillings for speeding (8 mph or 13 km/h) and knocking down a girl who ran into the road. Johnston always suppressed that part of the clip that told: "it moved on wheels(!) turned by the hand(!) by means of a crank." Thus the report of this accident does not specify that the vehicle had 2 wheels -- a fact which would have been noteworthy at the time. Moreover Alastair Dodds observes that it seems most unlikely that an artisan would ever be described as a gentleman in former times. Villagers thought him mad for dreaming up the first velocipede. Known locally as 'Daft Pate', his invention is still used by billions.

McCall's first and improved velocipede from the "English Mechanic" of 1869 - later predated and attributed to MacMillanWhile MacMillan certainly existed and rode some velocipede, he certainly didn't ride the velocipedes published by Thomas McCall twenty years later in 1869. All rear-wheel driven velocipedes were a reaction to the Michaux velocipede. The copies on exhibit e.g. at the Science Museum, London, England are all McCall's velocipedes, also the one at The Glasgow Museum of Transport that has the purported original.

According to bicycle historian David Herlihy, there is no contemporary documentary evidence that a pedal-crank design was applied to a 2-wheeled vehicle; in addition, letters from customers in Scotland to the Michaux company in 1868 state that all of the human-powered vehicles there are tricycles and quadricycles. All of this casts severe doubts on the authenticity of the claims made for Macmillan's priority in bicycle design. Besides Herlihy's book there is a short introdutction in David Gordon Wilson's Bicycling Science, 3rd edition.

A plaque on the family smithy Courthill reads "He builded better than he knew." - a good pun indeed. This hoopla in 1990 was one reason for the foundation of the International Cycling-History Conference (ICHC) that assembled in the Glasgow Museum of Transport for the first time in 1990, while a "Macmillan ride" took place in nearby Keir.


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