A Bicycle Pioneer Takes His Last Ride

August 29, 1891

Bicycle pioneer Pierre Lallement died in Boston at the age of 47. He had been born in 1843 in the commune of Pont-à-Mousson in northeastern France. Lallement became a carriage maker by trade, but eventually developed an even stronger interest in another type of transportation.

Specifically, Lallement worked hard on modifying a velocipede (also known as the dandy-horse) – a two-wheeled vehicle that was propelled forward when the rider pushed his or her feet along the ground in a walking or running motion – by adding a transmission to the device. The transmission consisted of a rotary crank mechanism and pedals attached to vehicle’s front-wheel hub; Lallement’s idea was to allow riders to use their feet on those pedals rather than on the ground to keep the vehicle moving.

Lallement continued refining his innovation, which many consider the world’s first true bicycle after he left his native France for the United States during the summer of 1865. He ended up settling in the Connecticut community of Ansonia, located about 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) northwest of New Haven.

In April 1866, Lallement took the two-wheeled device he built out for a spin in public in New Haven. He had already tried out the vehicle on the roads in and near Ansonia, but it was his test drive in New Haven that allowed for a higher-profile introduction of his creation. Lallement staged the demonstration by pedaling around the city’s central square known as the New Haven Green.

The exhibition earned Lallement considerable publicity, and also enabled him to secure the financial backing he desperately needed for a patent application. A month later, Lallement filed his drawings and other information for his device with the U.S. Patent Office. In November of that year, he was issued U.S. patent number 59,915; it was the first-ever complete set of official specifications for a bicycle. A monument honoring Lallement and his pioneering role when it came to bicycles was unveiled on the New Haven Green in 1998.

Additional information on Pierre Lallement is available at http://electronicvalley.org/derby/HallofFame/Lallement,Pierre.htm.

For more information on the patent for his two-wheeled device, please check out https://patents.google.com/patent/US59195.pdf.

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