Friday, November 16, 2012

"Machines and Carriages of Conveyance without Horses"

The proudest triumph of mechanics, will be the completion of a machine or carriage for travelling, without horses or other animals to drag it.
So states the The Monthly Magazine in its issue of November 1819. The unnamed writer of the article, which bears the same title as this blog, goes on to rail against the prejudice against change which, it seems to him, prevents the development of such a carriage. He further states that societies which supposedly confer patronage on such inventions are "incapable of appreciating any discovery which does not accord with their past habits and prejudices."

The Monthly Magazine however supported innovation and improvement. In March 1819 the journal carried an article on 'Drax's Velocipede' as improved by Mr. Johnson of Long Acre and made by Mr. Birch, "an eminent coachmaker, of Great Queen-street, London". 
not Drax's, but another velocipede of 1819
That March issue of the magazine is not available to me, and I have no illustration of Drax's invention, but I assume that it was propelled by some kind of pedal arrangement, as an article in the November issue states that "...the peculiar muscular action attending its frequent use, causes ruptures and inflammations of certain muscles of the thighs and legs; and it has in consequence been laid aside."

Upon the discovery of the inadequacies of Count Drax's invention, Mr. Birch, the coachmaker who built Drax's machine, took it upon himself to improve the conveyance.
...he has in consequence produced carriages of several forms and mechanical constructions, which merit the attention of the world, and cannot fail, from their elegance, safety, and power, to command extensive patronage.

This is the "Manivelociter". It is propelled by a sort of rowing action by the man in the rear seat as he pulled upon the levers he is holding. The lady in front steers the machine by means of  the handles attached to a pivot on the front wheel.

For twice the power and speed, Mr. Birch developed the "Bivector."

 Two men pulling two sets of levers--and the front man steers, but it is not clear how, for there is no mention of a pivot on the front wheel.

And finally, there is the "Trivector"--the ultimate machine of Mr. Birch's invention. The front wheel is three feet high (and does have a pivot for steering), the rear wheels are five feet in diameter. The extended frame has a floor for luggage and when loaded the conveyance "weighs 700 weight".

It seems likely that the "ruptures and inflammations of certain muscles of the thighs and legs" caused by Drax's velocipede were replaced by ruptures and inflammations to the arms and shoulders caused by the rowing action of this type of construction. Nevertheless,
This Trivector went from London to Brighton, on Saturday, Sept. 11, worked by three men, as represented in the engraving, in seven hours, where they dined; after which they proceeded thirteen miles farther; making together a distance of sixty-seven miles within the day. It would, however, be possible to run this machine 120 miles in the day, or ten miles an hour.
Well, Birch's machines did not ultimately 'command extensive patronage', and to modern eyes, they look rather ridiculous. But they were steps along a path that the author of the article considered essential: "That the perfection of such machines is most important, is evident from the consideration, that horses consume half the produce of the soil..."

It was only three years later that The Monthly Magazine was reporting on "Carriages to be propelled by Steam on Common Roads, and capable of conveying Goods and Passengers". They could travel five miles per hour, and were touted as reducing costs for everything from goods delivery to postal distribution. Steam was the way of the future, for the nineteenth century, at least.

Part of the charm of the Regency era is the fertile minds at work inventing a future that we take for granted. I sometimes wish they had not succeeded...except when I am in a hurry.

'Til next time,

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