M o n o w h e e l s.

The strange story of vehicles with insufficient wheels

Diwheels now have their own page here.

CONTENTS:
The Rousseau Monowheel: 1869
The Jackson Monowheel: 1869
The Greene & Dyer Monowheel: 1869
First Monowheel Patent: Bergner, 1869
The Harper Monowheel: 18??
The Hemmings Monowheel: 1869
The Gauthier Monowheel: 1881
A Horse-drawn Monowheel: 1883
Dreaming of a Monowheel: 1884
The Sociable Monowheel: 1896
An American Monowheel: 1897
The Monocycle Garavaglia: 1904
The Edison-Puton Monowheel: 1910
The Coates Propeller Monowheel: 1912
The D'Harlingue Propeller Monowheel: 1914
The Gyro-Electric Destroyer: 1918
The Cislaghi Motoruota: 1923
A New Terror: The Christie Monowheel. 1923
The Gyrocycle: 1926
A French Monowheel: 1927
The Gerdes Monowheel: 1931
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The Purves Dynosphere: 1932
The Monowheel Tank: 1933
The Nilsson Monowheel: 1936 Updated
The Rose Patent: 1937
The Saurez Monowheel: 1966
The Owen Monowheel and Diwheel: 1998
The Chabanais TractoWheel
The Kerry McLean Monowheels
The McLean V8 Monowheel See the Video!
Get Your McLean Monowheel Here
The Nilsson Monowheel Reloaded?
A 1924 Circus Monowheel Restored
Jake Lyall's RIOT wheel: 2003
The Scrapheap Challenge: 2002
Keith Dufrane's monowheel: 2004?
A Russian monowheel
The Brazilian Wheelsurf monowheel
The Chinese monocycle
The Steamboy Monowheel!
The David Southall Monowheel
The Wim te Kaat Monowheel
The Chilean Multiwheel NEW
Why Monowheels?
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Updated:
4 Oct 2014

Chilean Multiwheel added
NEW! Another Dynosphere video!

In the interest of speedier downloading, the monowheel gallery has now been divided into five pages.

A monowheel (or motorwheel) is one big wheel with rider and engine (if any) INSIDE its circumference. It is not to be confused with a unicycle, which has the rider above the wheel. You'll see what I mean.

(Sometimes the word "motorwheel" refers to just a wheel with an engine built into it, as opposed to having a separate motor that turns the wheel via an axle. See The Merkel Motorwheel )

Two wheels one after the other is just a motorcycle- unless what they support is actually a complete car, with gyroscope stabilisation to stop it falling over. See the next-door gallery: Gyrocars

I put this page together purely as the result of a coincidence. I happened to see photographs of the Gerdes and the McLean monowheels on the same day (in widely differing circumstances) and I thought that this must be one of the most neglected modes of transport ever. That this neglect is wholly justified is neither here nor there.

I was pretty sure I was constructing one of the most obscure pages on the Net, but as always I did a quick Alta Vista to look for any possible info on motorwheels. Synchronicity was working hard, because the Daily Telegraph had an article on the subject on that very day. See the info on Dr Owen's machines below.

Pictures of the earliest real monowheels kindly provided by Jackie Chabanais, who can be seen below gerbilling happily in his Tractowheel. He has a website at http://www.jackiechabanais.com


THE ROUSSEAU MONOWHEEL: 1869

1869 seems to have been a good year for monowheels. At least four appeared, one of them the subject of the first monowheel patent.

The First Monowheel?

This elegant monowheel cycle- the word "bicycle" seems somehow inappropriate, though there are certainly two wheels involved- dates back to 1869. It was built by Rousseau of Marseilles.
"In 1869 the craftsman Rousseau of Marseilles built this monocycle, which perches the cyclist on the inside of a 2 1/2 yards-high wheel. As there is no steering mechanism, it makes uncommon demands on the rider's sense of balance." (from Galbiati & Ciravegna)

Presumably the bigger outer wheel made bumps in the road easier to negotiate; compare the popular penny-farthing or "ordinary" bicycle. What it does not have is the gearing-up given by the large wheel of a penny-farthing.
Note the solid rim- this is before pneumatic tyres were introduced. There is no gearing and no steering. There is a brake, operated by twisting the handlebar forward. This pulls a strap that causes the curved lever to press against the rim of the inner wheel.

The machine is in the Museo Fermo Galbiati, Via Mameli 15, Brugherio, Milan, Italy. (A bicycle museum)

Bibliography:
"Bicycles" by Fermo Galbiati and Nino Ciravegna
Chronicle Books, 1994, ISBN 0-8118-0750-9

Image, info & reference kindly provided by Paul Dunlop.


THE JACKSON MONOWHEEL: 1869

Left: The Jackson Monowheel: 1869.

This surprisingly modern-looking monowheel is in the Velorama National Bicycle Museum in Nijmegen, Holland. It is actually a replica of an original built by W. Jackson & Co, Paris, France, in 1869. It is not currently clear if the replica is based on original components of the Jackson monowheel.

The diameter of the wheel is approximately 1.65 metres (5 ft 5 in). The monocycle is treadle driven, the treadles being connected by rods to cranks on the axle of the inner driving wheel. This wheel runs in a semi-circular groove on the the inside of the inner rim of the main wheel.

W. Jackson et Compagnie of Boulevard Malherbes 36, Paris, advertised regularly in the short-lived cycling magazine, Le Vélocipède Illustré. (It only ran from spring 1869 until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870)
They appear to have been sales agents rather than manufacturers since they offered all kinds of cycle: velocipedes, tricycles, quadricycles and the monocycle. Each one of their adverts carried an engraved picture of the week's offering. The monocycle was featured in the edition of 24 July 1870 at a price of 300 francs; this advert was the basis of the replica at Velorama.

Picture and info by Andreas Vogler and Stephen Ransom


THE GREENE & DYER MONOWHEEL: 1869

Left: The Greene & Dyer Monowheel: 1869.

For some reason the support struts, mentioned below, appear to be missing in this picture

Left: The Greene & Dyer Monowheel: 1869.

The seat seems to set very high. Gerbilling would surely be an ever-present danger.

Left: The Greene & Dyer Monowheel Patent: 1869.

So far as can be discerned from this drawing, the hand-cranks were directly connected to the wheel, with the treadles connected to them. It is difficult to see how the former could be of much use, as the crank radius is small compared with the wheel diameter.

Having the support struts trail along the ground as you ride seems really daft. Hadn't these chaps heard about friction?

Note that this patent actually has a later number than the Bergner patent described below.

The enigmatic part designated "I" is apparently a roof to keep the rain off; it seems far too small to be of any use.

Image & info most kindly provided by Stephen Ransom.


THE FIRST MONOWHEEL PATENT: BERGNER, 1869

Above: The first known patent for a monowheel.

This is USA patent 91,510; Greene & Dyer's patent is 91.535 so Bergner only just squeaked in ahead of them. Note the very wide dual-rim wheel, which would appear to make "steering by body movements" a rather tricky proposition. There is no information as to whether this design was actually constructed.
A most interesting point is that Bergner states that monowheels had already been in use before this date, which implies that the Rousseau monowheel above was not the first. Perhaps there is a legion of lost monowheels... a poignant thought.

Image & info kindly provided by Stephen Ransom.


THE HARPER MONOWHEEL: 18??

The monowheel cycle of Lewis H. Harper, from McHught, Minnesota. Date currently unknown.

This machine was exhibited in a velo exhibition in England and achieved a then unheard of speed of 30 miles an hour. Harper won a prize in England and proudly returned to his native country to demonstrate his invention. But at his first public appearance in the United States, the bicycle crashed, injuring its inventor severely. Propulsion was by pedal drive to the lower inner wheel.

This design looks suspiciously similiar to the Rousseau monowheel above. Had Mr Harper been to Marseilles?

Image & info kindly provided by Ian Bennett.

The monocycle which was ridden by Harper in England probably should be credited to Friedrich Langmaak and Peter Streiff. Apparently this monowheel was displayed on the stand of G.H. Strong at an exhibition of machinery held in San Francisco in 1886.

Info kindly provided by Stephen Ransom.


THE HEMMINGS MONOWHEEL: 1869

This monowheel design was patented by Richard C Hemmings of New Haven, Connecticut in 1869.

This design is unusual as it appears to be hand-propelled; not a good choice as our leg muscles have much greater power. Possibly the legs are contributing; the drawing seems to show the feet on treadles, but they don't appear to be connected to anything. The rider is protected from the weather by an awning J.

Whether this machine was ever built is unknown.

US Patent No 92,528


THE GAUTHIER MONOWHEEL: 1881

A French monowheel: the design of M. Gauthier. Post 1881.

This design has eight spokes and a wheel of 2 metres diameter. The picture apparently shows the machine with one side removed, but this by no means certain. The accompanying text seems to imply that there were spokes on one side only, offset so that the rider's CG came above the wheel tread.

This picture was originally published in the French scientific journal La Nature at some date after October 1881. The text stated that this sort of monowheel, with the rider inside the wheel, was not new, and despite the improvements of M Gauthier remained "impracticable for ordinary mortals" because of the difficulty of balancing without the front-back stability provided by the two wheels of a bicycle. Having tried a monowheel myself, I can verify that this is true.

Picture courtesy of Henk Schuurih.


A HORSEDRAWN MONOWHEEL: 1883

A one-horse monowheel design. Date unknown, but probably 1870-1890.

I think this drawing may be a bit confused. Note the two stabiliser wheels attached to a transverse leaf-spring.

The picture was taken from a book of copyright-free images, and I suspected that it was just a concept. For example, the idlers inside the main wheel are not spaced enough around the circumference to keep the inner carriage in place.

However... according to The Polish Wikipedia it was a real vehicle built in 1883 by Polish engineer Stanislaw Barycki.

Many thanks to Pawel Adamowicz for drawing this to my attention

It was called Swallow, also Bulb Horn, (?) and was allegedly a prototype for some sort of track-laying vehicle. This sounds very strange, as it the ultra-light machine shown would appear to be about as far away as one could get from a heavy tracked vehicle. Anyway, Polish Wikipedia goes on to say:

"Swallow was one of many other vehicles built by Barycki, who attempted to construct self-propelled mechanical vehicles. The actual vehicle, with means of propulsion and a driver seat, was rolling inside huge rim, considered vehicle's "portable road". First tests were conducted by rolling the vehicle down the hill. Later, the vehicle was pulled by a horse. Lack of small, internal combustion engines forced the inventor to try out other means of propulsion; sail, pedals or a kind of a "pneumatic device". (presumably a compressed-air motor) He was against steam engines so consequently he did not apply any to his vehicle. The social environment of Barycki perceived his attempts only as fancy variation of a britzka and not as a revolutionary improvement in travelling. The inventor died in poverty, spending all his money on the development of his vehicle."

Source: Witold Rychter "Dzieje samochodu" ("The history of an automobile"), WKL, Warszawa 1983

The last bit, "The inventor died in poverty" has a plausible ring to it, as all engineers will agree. If anyone can shed any more light on this mysterious business, I will be most grateful.


DREAMING OF A MONOWHEEL: 1884.

I assume this is wholly imaginary design. It was found in a book on "Victorian Inventions". The original is clearly a drawing rather than a photograph.

There are two reasons why I believe this to be an imaginary machine.The obvious one is that the rider appears to be imprisoned within two complete sets of spokes. Presumably the machine was built round him.
The second is that the hapless victim looks to be in the gravest danger of gerbilling. (see below) His centre-of-gravity appears to be roughly at the centre of the wheel, so when he pedalled he might simply rotate without generating any sustained force to move the wheel forwards.

Interesting technical features are what appear to be twin tyres, and a sort of umbrella affair over the rider's head to keep the rain off. Similar roofing structures occur in the Dynosphere and the Rose patent.


HARPER'S MONOWHEEL: 1892.

Harper's monowheel: around 1892.

A monowheel with six spokes and some very complicated bracing around the periphery of the wheel. The widely-spaced spokes would allow the rider to get in and out relatively easily. Whether this machine was ever built is unknown.

My original source described this as "a design for a French military monowheel", but I have since found the same picture in Scientific American for 1894, where it is described as "Harper's Unicycle" implying American origin, and there is now no doubt that this invention was the brainchild of Lewis W Harper of Minnesota. This is almost certainly the same Harper referred to above.

Note that the drive is transmitted from crank shaft to big wheel by vertical shafts and bevel gearing.

Picture courtesy of Ian Bennet.

Above: The Lewis Harper patent of 1892.

Patent info courtesy of Stephen Ransom


THE SOCIABLE MONOWHEEL

The Sociable Monowheel: 1896?.

In the early days of cycling, a "sociable" was any design carrying two or more people.

The engraving comes from the book "Bicycles and Tricycles" by Archibald Sharp, an extremely comprehensive work that does not shrink from examining the structural strength of bicycle frames and the kinematics of chainwheels. The only reference to this monowheel in the text baldly calls it: "a sociable monocycle... for two riders." And that's all he wrote.

The rather crude drawing does not appear to be copied from a photograph, and it seemed to me unlikely that such a machine was ever built. The problems of two people co-ordinating the balancing and steering would be severe.

However, Brent Cardani tells me:
"I found that a sociable monocycle was produced by Pearce in 1881. This is according to "The History and Development of Cycles" by C.F. Caunter, published in 1955 "for the Science Museum by Her Majesty's Stationery Office". Alas, there are no pictures of the contraption, but the description in the text seems to describe exactly what is shown in the picture on your site."
The dates don't match, but maybe Sharp was describing a machine built 15 years before he was writing.

An interesting point is that such a machine could only be used with two riders- unlike a conventional tandem which can be ridden by one.


AN AMERICAN MONOWHEEL: 1897

An American monowheel: 1897.

This is the monowheel design of Vernon D Venable, of Farmville, Virginia. It consists of something like a normal bicycle ridden inside the big wheel.

This picture was originally published in the French scientific journal La Nature in 1897. It said: "the inventor affirms that his unicycle is absolutely stable, and can be easily steered by a simple inclination of the body to left or right". I admire (but do not share) his confidence. Early monowheels were sometimes described as "unicycles", but today a unicycle is a relatively small wheel with a saddle mounted on a tube extending above it, intended only for circus and recreational use.

Picture courtesy of Henk Schuurih.

An American monowheel: 1897.

The mechanical details of Mr Venable's monowheel; note the roller-bearing between frame and wheel.

Picture courtesy of Henk Schuurih.

The patent drawing: 1897.

Patent number 611,534 was taken out in May 1897. Here the sprocket-and-peg drive to the main wheel can be more clearly seen.

Picture courtesy of Stephen Ransom.

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