facts about the invention
Motorcycle by Sylvester Roper in
AT A GLANCE:
A steam velocipede built by inventor Sylvester H. Roper
in 1867 may be the earliest known motorcycle. The coal fired steam
engine unit is part of a specially built chassis rather than an add-on
and had no pedal crank. While Roper’s
two-wheeled inventions never found commercial success, his innovations
provided inspiration and direction for inventors in the gas-powered
motorbike era at the turn of the century.
HOW IT WORKS
DID YOU KNOW?
||Motorcycle, Steam Powered
noun / mo-tor-cy-cle / motorized
A motorcycle may be defined as a self-propelled, engine-powered,
two-wheeled vehicle. Chiefly for one rider but sometimes having two
saddles or an attached sidecar for passengers.
Sylvester Howard Roper
||First to invent. First
to patent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
November 24, 1823 in Francestown, New Hampshire.
June 1, 1896 in Cambridge, Massachusetts
ARYs: motorcycle, steam powered motorcycle, Roper, Sylvester Roper,
steam velocipede, history, invention, stroy, facts,
A steam velocipede
built by inventor Sylvester H. Roper was exhibited and demonstrated at
New England fairs and circuses by 1869.
The motorcycle, built in 1884
by an Englishman named Edward Butler, looked pretty silly. It had three wheels, not two,
and was really just a tricycle with a motor. Nevertheless, people were afraid of
Butlers motorcycle so afraid that they asked the government to pass laws against the
new machine. One law said that there must always be three people on a motorcycle. Another
said that a man with a red flag must run ahead of the motorcycle, waving the flag and
yelling to warn people that a motorcycle was coming.
At about the same time, a German
named Gottlieb Daimler invented another kind of motorcycle.
Nicholaus Otto, who invented the Otto Cycle, had an assistant, Gottlieb
Daimler. Daimler left Otto to develop his own engine. Gottlieb Daimler
(who later teamed up with Karl Benz to form the Daimler-Benz Corporation) is
often credited with building the first motorcycle in 1885, one wheel in the
front and one in the back, although it had a smaller spring-loaded outrigger
wheel on each side. It was constructed mostly of wood, with the wheels being
of the iron-banded wooden-spooked wagon-type, definitely a "bone-crusher"
It was indeed
powered by a single-cylinder Otto-cycle engine, and may have had a
spray-type carburetor. (Daimler's assistant, Wilhelm Maybach was working on
the invention of the spray carburetor at the time). Paul Daimler, Gottlieb’s
young son, was the first to give his dad’s motorcycle a test drive. His
daughter is also said to have taken it for a spin, but cracked it up into a
He drove it with his
engine instead of with a pedal arrangement. But there was a catch: Daimler's
motorcycle had two small stabilizing wheels --like a kid's training bike. It
was actually a four-wheeled vehicle. Daimler soon went on to build early
automobiles. He left it to bicycle builders to develop the two-wheeled
The first really
successful production two-wheeler though, was the Hildebrand & Wolfmueller,
patented in Munich in 1894. In 1897 a gasoline
tricycle built by Louis S. Clarke of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is a
remarkably modern-looking tricycle, converted to self-propulsion by the
addition of a single-cylinder gasoline engine mounted just forward of the
In 1901, a bicycle
racer Oscar Hedstrom designed a motorcycle for the Hendee Manufacturing
Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, which later became the Indian
In 1903, 21-year old
William S. Harley and 20-year old Arthur Davidson made available to the
public the first production Harley-Davidson® motorcycle. The bike was built
to be a racer, with a 3-1/8 inch bore and 3-1/2 inch stroke. The factory in
which they worked was a 10 x 15-foot wooden shed with the words
"Harley-Davidson Motor Company" crudely scrawled on the door. The only
American motorcycle manufacturer still in existence from the early days is
the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, which celebrated its centennial in 2003.
Harley-Davidson, A Century of Innovation
from The Great Idea Finder
from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Kid Who Invented the Popsicle : And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages (1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident,
from animal crackers to the zipper.
On the Move : Transportation and the American Story
by Michael Sweeney, Janet Davidson / Hardcover: 320 pages / National
A lively narrative of the country’s network of
transportation systems, the people who built and traveled on them and the
goods shipped on them. Packed with informative sidebars, maps, artwork,
historical photographs complemented by original photography of Smithsonian
artifacts, as well as many personal anecdotes.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity : An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
by John H. Lienhard / Paperback: 272 pages / Oxford University Press, USA
(December 4, 2003)
Based on episodes from Lienhard's widely
broadcast public radio series, this intriguing set of essays begins with a
simple premise: more than we often care to admit, our lives are shaped by
our machines. Fleshing out this proposition, Lienhard ransacks 2,000 years
of scientific and technological history, cobbling together a quirky
biography of the strange being he calls homo technologicus.
100 Years of Harley Davidson
by Willie G. Davidson / Hardcover: 288 pages / Bulfinch; (October 11,
With sexy full-page photo spreads and plenty of motorcycle lore, this
commemorative volume celebrates the centennial of the legendary motor
company. Davidson, vice president of Styling at Harley-Davidson and the
grandson of one of the original founders, gives a decade-by-decade account
of the company and the rise of biker culture.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motorcycles (Out of print.)
by Darwin Holmstrom, Jay Leno, Motorcyclist Mag./ Paperback: 456 pages /
Alpha Books; (2001)
Covers everything from how to choose and maintain a motorcycle and how to
buy appropriate gear to how to ride safely, and how to make the most out of
trips on the open road. It also discusses motorcycle history and the
timeless motorcycle mystique.
Well Made in America: Lessons from Harley-Davidson on Being the Best
by Peter C. Reid / Paperback:/ McGraw-Hill; Reprint edition (April
An in-depth look at how this group of pioneering owner-managers breathed new
life into their company, how they triumphed over financial instability and
foreign competition and how they positioned their company for steady future
ON THE SCREEN:
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $25.00 /
Meet the pioneers behind such names as Triumph, Indian, Yamaha and Harley
Davidson, and see how their early designs have been adapted and updated over
decades of development.
The Story of the Harley-Davidson Empire
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 150 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $25.00 /
A special-edition commemorating the centennial of an American
icon.Probes the Harley mystique and follows the company from its modest
beginnings in a Detroit shack to today's phenomenal successes, drawing on
interviews with industry insiders, company officials and famous fans.
ON THE WEB:
The oldest self-propelled road vehicle in the Museum's collection is the
steam-powered velocipede built in the late 1860s by Sylvester H. Roper, of
Roxbury, Massachusetts, and demonstrated by him at fairs and circuses. At
first glance the machine appears to be a converted velocipede, but
examination reveals that its frame was forged expressly for this
From the Smithsonian Collection
The Smithsonian Motorcycle collection
A small but choice collection of motorcycles, managed by the Transportation
Collection staff in the Division of the History of Technology.The collective
history of the holdings is rich and colorful, and it continues to grow as
new examples of this unique branch of American transportation technology are
added to the permanent collection.
Motorcycles are descended from the "safety" bicycle, bicycles with front and
rear wheels of the same size, with a pedal crank mechanism to drive the rear
By Dave Tharp, Virtual Museum Curator
Did Sylvester Roper, born in 1823 in New Hampshire, build the first
motorcycle?. During the Civil War, Roper worked in the Springfield Armory,
where his interest turned to steam power. In 1868, Roper built a
Harley and Davidson
Experiments by two
individuals would set the tone for what motorcycle building was all about.
These two men went by the names of William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson.
THE SAMMY MILLER MUSEUM
Motorcycle Shrine With Some Priceless Exhibits
The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series
about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them. Article by John Lienhard, at the University of
1903, 21-year old William S. Harley and 20-year old Arthur Davidson made
available to the public the first production Harley-Davidson® motorcycle.
The bike was built to be a racer, with a 3-1/8 inch bore and 3-1/2 inch
At the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, presented by American Motorcyclist
HOW IT WORKS:
Velocipede, the two 34-inch-diameter wooden-spoke wheels
have wooden felloes and iron-band tires. The front wheel is supported in a
forged wrought-iron fork having a straight handlebar with wooden grips.
Footrests are provided at the bottom of the fork. The wheelbase is 49
A vertical, fire-tube boiler is suspended between the wheels, and a chimney
angles back from the top of the boiler housing. The lower half of the
housing served as the firebox (the grate of which is missing). Charcoal was
fed through a small circular door on the left side of the firebox. The
housing is suspended from the center of the frame by means of a
spring-loaded hanger (intended to absorb some of the road shock) and is
braced at the bottom by two stay rods connected to the rear of the frame.
A hand-operated water pump is mounted vertically on the left forward side of
the boiler housing. Three water-level cocks are located nearby, and there is
a drain valve at the left rear of the boiler's base. Oscillating steam
cylinders are pivoted on each side of the frame, next to the chimney.
From outside measurements, it is estimated that the bore of the cylinders is
about 2 1/4 inches. The piston rods worked on 2 1/2-inch cranks on the ends
of the rear axle. Piston valves for the cylinders were operated by
eccentrics adjacent to their cranks, and a feed-water pump was operated by
the left-cylinder crank. The exhaust steam, carried by tubing into the base
of the chimney, provided forced draft.
Apparently, while the machine was at rest a forced draft was provided by a
tiny steam pipe that leads from the safety valve at the top rear of the
boiler to the base of the chimney. There is a damper valve within the
The throttle, located at the top front of the boiler housing, was actuated
by forward twisting of the handlebar. A friction brake was applied against
the rim of the front wheel when the handlebar was twisted toward the driver.
Heavy tubing leads from the throttle to the steam chests of the cylinders,
and other tubing leads from the boiler to a steam gauge at the front of the
frame. The water supply for the boiler was contained in tank that also
served as the saddle. The filler opening is at the front of the tank. Water
was supplied to the hand pump and the feed water pump by means of tubing that
leads from the bottom of the tank.
From the book "On The Move" by Janet Davidson
DID YOU KNOW?
Sources in BOLD Type.
Berners-Lee's invention has revolutionized the world like nothing
The invention of the Internet,
should be classed with the greatest events of the 20th Century.
The Aero Sport All-Terrain Bed
with Dual Power Pump is the perfect addition to any camping trip or weekend
book, is the perfect desktop reference for both the science novice and the
technologically advanced reader alike.
CELEBRATE WITH US