Getting the wheels rolling: the Draisine (dandy-horse)
5th April 1815: the volcano Mount Tambora erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. This was no ordinary volcanic eruption; the mountain literally exploded, destroyed almost the entire island and in doing so killed between 90,000 and 117,000 people. But this wasn’t all: the massive emissions of sulphur dioxide changed the atmosphere and had an influence on the weather all over the world. In Europe, the people admired magnificent sunsets first of all, but 1816 became the “Year without a Summer” with unusually cold temperatures; in some places, the sun didn’t even seem to rise. The bad weather led to crop failures and famines throughout the world. The food shortages also meant that there was not enough fodder for farm animals. In many places, horses had to be slaughtered or they died of starvation.
In Mannheim, Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Drais searched for a replacement for horse labour and he developed the “Laufmaschine” (running machine), also known as the Draisine (dandy-horse), which is today considered to be the forerunner of the bicycle. In 1817, he presented it to the public for the first time. However, this was not a matter here of a linear development; many technical innovations were developed independently of one another or at several times before they found their way into bicycle technology. Thus, there were many running wheels before the dandy-horse, however without steering and with little success. Drais’s running wheel spread throughout Germany and Europe. Nevertheless, it still took about 50 years before the development of the bicycle was continued.