Kirkpatrick Macmillan was a Scottish blacksmith who is credited with inventing the modern pedal bicycle. A simple and homely man, Macmillan assisted his father at the forge when he chanced upon a hobbyhorse. Marvelled at the device, he set to build one for himself. Hobbyhorse was a two-wheeled bike that had to be propelled by pushing one’s foot on the ground. It was while working on the hobbyhorse that the idea for a self-propelled machine first struck Macmillan. He soon started working towards it and in 1839 came up with the first working model of a pedal bicycle. Interestingly, for Macmillan the bicycle was just a machine that helped him cover greater distances in less time. Also, it gave him the opportunity to explore the quiet country routes. He never realized the huge potential that the bicycle promised and as such, never patented his design. However, people who looked at the bicycle knew its worth and soon started making copies of it. One such person was Gavin Dalzell who copied the machine and passed the design to so many people that for nearly half a decade he was regarded as the inventor of the bicycle. Macmillan’s early bike is at display at the Glasglow Transport Museum
Childhood & Early Life
Kirkpatrick Macmillan was born on September 2, 1812, in Keir Mill, Thornhill, Scotland. His father, Robert Macmillan, was a blacksmith.
As a young boy, Kirkpatrick Macmillan indulged in a variety of works. Accompanying his father at the forge, he gained an understanding of mechanical devices and their metal working.
When Macmillan turned 22, he served as an assistant to Walter Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuth at Drumlanrig. Later, he left the same to assist his father in his work.
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Working as a blacksmith Macmillan chanced upon a hobbyhorse that was being ridden on a nearby road. Seeing it, he decided to make one for himself. Hobbyhorse at that time had to be propelled by pushing the feet on the ground.
While working on the hobbyhorse, Macmillan was first struck with the idea of having a vehicle that would move forward without the traveller putting his feet to the ground —a self-propelled velocipede. He started to work on his idea.
In 1839, Macmillan completed the work of the new machine, which became the forerunner of the modern bicycle. It was basically a pedal driven bicycle made of wood. It had iron-rimmed wooden wheels, a steerable wheel in the front and a larger wheel in the rear. Using connecting rods, he linked the rear wheel with pedals.
Macmillan’s first machinery required the rider to make extreme physical effort. The bicycle propelled forward by a horizontal reciprocating movement when the rider put his foot on the pedal. Connecting rods helped the rear wheels to move ahead by transmitting the movement to the cranks on the rear wheel. It operated like rods connecting the wheels on a steam locomotive.
Despite the heavy machinery and immense physical effort to ride the bicycle, Macmillan soon mastered riding his created machinery and used the bicycle for travelling through the rough country roads, covering fourteen-mile journey to Dumfries. Thanks for the bicycle; the journey took him less than an hour.
Taking the expedition further, Macmillan, in 1842, travelled all the way to Glasglow from Dumfries on his bicycle. He intended to cover a distance of 68 miles in two days. It was while riding that Macmillan mistakenly knocked over a little girl in the Gorbals, causing her minor injuries. For the same he was fined five shillings. This was the first recorded incident of Macmillan’s bicycle ride.
Macmillan never thought of patenting his invention or trying to sell the same. For him, bicycle was just a vehicle that allowed him to drive through the quiet country side. However, people who saw Macmillan soon realized the potential of his machine.
It is said that in 1846, Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow copied Macmillan’s machine. He was so impressed by the design that he passed on the details to a vast number of people for more than 50 years. Due to this, for more than half a decade, Dalzell was credited as the inventor of the bicycle. It was only later that people realized the true inventor.
Upon watching Macmillan drive his way through Glasglow, Thomas McCall upgraded the bicycle by putting in brakes and other important improvements. Interestingly, McCall also never patented his designed bicycle and declined all sorts of recognition!
Macmillan is best remembered as the inventor of the modern bicycle. It was while working to construct a hobbyhorse for himself that the idea of a self-propelled vehicle first struck him. He worked his way to create a machine that propelled on its own with the help of a rider’s pedal. Macmillan made the world’s first pedal cycle on a wooden frame with iron-rimmed wheels.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1854, Macmillan tied the nuptial knot with Elizabeth Goldie. The couple was blessed with two children.
He breathed his last on January 26, 1878 in Courthill. A plaque on his family smithy read as, ‘He builded better than he knew’.
As a mark of commemoration for the man who gave the world the pleasure of driving a bicycle, Macmillan’s early bike can be seen at the Glasglow Transport Museum.
He is the inventor of the modern pedal bicycle.