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Laubach velocipede, 1869

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Laubach velocipede, 1869
Smithsonian Institution, Negative #: 72-477


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Bicycle Collection — The collection, 1818-1869

Laubach velocipede
Catalog #: 330,734, Accession #: 299,300
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

This velocipede was donated to the Museum in 1971. It is one of the few departures from conventional velocipede construction that achieved any appreciable popularity. The design was invented by Dr. William H. Laubach, of Philadelphia and assigned U.S. Patent 86,235 on 26 January 1869. Laubach's velocipede also came to be known as the Pearsall velocipede after Laubach sold his patent to the Pearsall brothers, who operated New York City's first and most successful velocipede school. The New York Coach-Maker's Magazine, the Coach-Makers' International Journal, and the Eclectic Medical Journal all were profuse in their praise of this "most scientific velocipede." Among the claims made for it were the statements that both wheels were always in the same arc when turning and that, due to its peculiar construction, the rider's weight kept it running in a naturally straight line. The many favorable comments made of it seem unwarranted, however, for it proved to be far less manageable than velocipedes of the usual design.

Dr. Laubach is said to have traveled one hundred miles in five hours on one of these velocipedes, seemingly a rather unlikely feat. The Pearsalls were so impressed with the design that they reportedly formed a stock company with a capital of $300,000.00 to manufacture Laubach patent velocipedes, but it is not known to what extent they produced them, or used them in their riding school. Laubach velocipedes cost $125.00.

Physical Description

Artifact. The construction of this velocipede differs from the more common variety in that this one is articulated, being constructed of two separate frames, one for each wheel, pivoted together in the center. Each frame consists of four iron rods, secured together by cast bronze fittings. The fittings securing the axles are split, and are held together by two bolts. The central fittings of the two frames pivot on a vertical iron pin. A gear segment, integral with the upper pivot joint of the rear section, engages a gear segment on the steering column, the latter being mounted in the forward frame section. Turning the wood-grip handlebars causes both wheels to swing, so that both assist in steering, yet the rear wheel appears to be doing the greater portion of the work because the seat remains in the same plane with the front wheel. The 12-spoke wheels are both 36 1/2 inches in diameter, and carry a 3/4-inch iron tire. The pedal cranks are in the conventional position on the front wheel, and carry 3-sided bronze pedals that can be fitted in either of two holes in the cranks, giving a throw of either 5 1/2 or 6 1/2 inches. The wooden seat is old, but may not be original, for it does not agree with three contemporary illustrations of the cycle. Tack holes on the underside indicate that the seat was once covered. The seat support rests on a coil spring around the central pivot pin, allowing the seat to move freely up and down. Two of the three existing drawings of this velocipede show some type of footrest beneath the rider, just in front of the pivot joint, but there is no evidence that this machine was ever fitted with such rests. Neither is there evidence of any finish on this velocipede, yet in view of the existing finishes on other velocipedes, it does not seem unlikely that this one, too, was once brightly painted and striped.

Date Made:
New York, Pennsylvania
Gift of Mrs. William J. J. Manning
The value of the velocipede for purposes of physical exercise was early discovered, as evidenced by this comment concerning Laubach's cycle in the January 1869 Eclectic Medical Journal: "We look upon this mode of exercise with this physiologically constructed machine as one of the most brilliant discoveries of the nineteenth century; the grand desideratum that will emancipate our youth from muscular lethargy and atrophy that is so common."

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