Sauerbrun, Charles de, Baron von Drais

SUBJECT AREA: Land transport
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b. 1785
d. 1851
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German popularizer of the first form of manumotive vehicle, the hobby-horse.
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An engineer and agriculturalist who had to travel long distances over rough country, he evolved an improved design of velocipede. The original device appears to have been first shown in the gardens of the Palais Royal by the comte de Sivrac in 1791, a small wooden "horse" fitted with two wheels and propelled by the rider's legs thrusting alternately against the ground. It was not possible to turn the front wheel to steer the machine, a small variation from the straight being obtained by the rider leaning sideways. It is not known if de Sivrac was the inventor of the machine: it is likely that it had been in existence, probably as a child's toy, for a number of years. Its original name was the celerifière, but it was renamed the velocifère in 1793. The Baron's Draisienne was an improvement on this primitive machine; it had a triangulated wooden frame, an upholstered seat, a rear luggage seat and an armrest which took the thrust of the rider as he or she pushed against the ground. Furthermore, it was steerable. In some models there was a cordoperated brake and a prop stand, and the seat height could be adjusted. At least one machine was fitted with a milometer. Drais began limited manufacture and launched a long marketing and patenting campaign, part of which involved sending advertising letters to leading figures, including a number of kings.
The Draisienne was first shown in public in April 1817: a ladies' version became available in 1819. Von Drais took out a patent in Baden on 12 January 1818 and followed with a French patent on 17 February. Three-and four-wheeled versions became available so the two men could take the ladies for a jaunt.
Drais left his agricultural and forestry work and devoted his full time to the "Running Machine" business. Soon copies were being made and sold in Italy, Germany and Austria. In London, a Denis Johnson took out a patent in December 1818 for a "pedestrian curricle" which was soon nicknamed the dandy horse.
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Further Reading
C.A.Caunter, 1955, Cycles: History and Development, London: Science Museum and HMSO.
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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