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Even with its rich history, readers cannot fully appreciate the uniqueness of this three-wheeled wonder until you see it in person. With that in mind, if you come to they museum and say, “I’m here to see the velocipede” — your admission will be free. This offer ends Monday, April 30, 2018. So come and pay the museum us a visit. You will be glad you did!

As an archivist at the Dunn County Historical Museum, I work with the museums artifacts. My job is to research them, to find out what the really are, what they really do, or where they came from. We have some very interesting . Here’s one I would like to share them with you.

Introducing the velocipede

We have a velocipede at the museum. It’s not some hairy insect with lots of legs, nor is it some new strange disease. It is a type of tricycle from the 1890s. The word velocipede is derived from the Latin words “velox” which translates to swift, plus “pes” meaning foot.

Our velocipede is a very rare piece of history. It has a small, single front wheel that is made out of metal, with no rubber on it at all. Steering is done using a long metal rod with a small wooden handle attached to it that runs from the front fork back to the wooden seat.

The pedals are attached to long metal rods that are attached to the front fork and run back to the crankshaft-style rear axle that powers the two large rear wheels. Unlike the front wheel, the rear wheels are made with hard rubber tires attached to the rims.

History lesson

There are no chains or gears on the velocipede because they had not been invented yet. That’s just a very small part of the history of this trike. Here is the rest:

Traveling all of the way back to 1655, a three-wheeled wheel chair was built by a disabled German named Stephan Farffler who wanted to be able to maintain his mobility. Since he was a watchmaker, he was able to create a vehicle that was powered by hand cranks connected to the front wheel.

Moving forward to 1789, two French inventors developed a three-wheeled vehicle powered by pedals. They called it the tricycle.

The year 1818 saw British inventor David Johnson patent his approach to designing tricycles, In 1876, James Starley developed the Coventry Rotary, which was one of the first rotary chain-drive tricycles. Starley’s inventions started a tricycling craze in Britain. By 1879, there were 20 types of tricycles and multi-wheel cycles ... produced in Coventry, England.

By 1884, there were more than 120 different models produced by 20 manufacturers. The first front steering tricycle was manufactured in 1881 by the Leicester Safety Tricycle of Leicester, England and was brought to the market in 1882. The company also developed a folding tricycle at the same time both of which enjoyed considerable success.

Bruce Gardow is a volunteer and archivist at the Dunn County Historical Museum who shares his extensive knowledge as he explores some of the many treasures that exist in the archives of the Dunn County Historical Society’s Rassbach Heritage Museum, located at 1820 Wakanda St. in Menomonie’s Wakanda Park.


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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