Friday, March 09, 2007

Karl Drais (1785-1851)

Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Drais von Sauerbronn was born on April 29, 1785, in Karlsruhe, Baden. He attended seondary modern school in Karlsruhe and, at the age of 15, moved to Pforzheim to study at a private forestry school at the urging of his godfather, the Grand Duke of Baden. In 1803, he began attendance at the University of Heidelberg, studying architecture, mathematics, and physics.

After spending some time as a forestry inspector, he had a career change and began work as a teacher at a university in Mannheim, where he was able to publish his ideas, including numerous algebraic equations, and inventions, including a new piano recorder, a 16-character stenograph, and a two-wheeled, man-powered vehicle.

1817 saw the invention of Drais' two-wheeled vehicle, called the Laufmaschine, draisine, or hobby-horse. Essentially, this was a precursor to the velocipede and eventually the modern bicycle (and influenced many other vehicles, such as the Wright Brothers' airplane). It was steerable, had a wooden frame, and was propelled by pushing your feet along the ground (like a Flinstone car), so horses weren't needed. He also experimented with man-powered railroad vehicles (railway handcars are still known as Draisines). Although the invention itself is revolutionary, it was banned in many places for being a danger to pedestrians. It wasn't until the latter half of the 19th Century that innovations were made and this form of transportation was plausible. Drais died on December 10, 1851, in his hometown.
Below is a link to a picture of a draisine:

http://velorizontale.free.fr/images/faq/draisienne.jpg

Below is a link to a portrait of Drais:

http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/unispiegel/us05_04/kath2.jpg

References:
http://www.karldrais.de/kd-en-overview-importance.html (make sure you click the English flag in the upper right corner)
http://www.library.northwestern.edu/transportation/greatmoments.html
http://www.cycle-info.bpaj.or.jp/english/learn/chistory.html
http://www.pedalinghistory.com/PHhistory.html
http://www.karl-drais.de/en_biography.pdf

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