Worcester, Mass.
September 5, 1993

Lallement recognized as inventor of bicycle

By Lynne Tolman

   History books will tell you that father and son Pierre and Ernest Michaux, French carriage-makers, invented the bicycle in the 1860s.

   Not so, according to Boston history buff David V. Herlihy and a growing number of experts who will convene Oct. 11-16 in Boston for the fourth International Cycle History Conference.

   The credit for putting pedals on the hobby horse belongs to another Frenchman, Pierre Lallement, according to research Herlihy will present at the conference.

   Lallement built his prototype in the Paris carriage-maker's shop where he worked in 1862 and practiced riding it in a long corridor, then in the streets.

   Two years later, perhaps aware that others were tinkering with the same idea, he gathered the makings of an improved bicycle and traveled to America. He completed the vehicle at a machine shop in Ansonia, Conn.

   Legend has it that while careening downhill (brakes were not developed until later), Lallement nearly collided with a horse-drawn wagon, sending its drivers fleeing to the nearest tavern telling wide-eyed tales of being chased by a "devil on wheels" with a human head and a body that was half-snake and half-bird.

   Nonetheless, Lallement got the backing of an investor, James Carroll, and their patent application was granted in 1866 -- the world's first public record of the pedal-powered two-wheeler.

   A subsequent owner of the patent, Albert A. Pope, made a fortune manufacturing Columbia bicycles, while Lallement died poor and unrecognized at his home in Roxbury.

   Herlihy is president of the Lallement Memorial Committee, sponsor of the conference, which aims to give Lallement due recognition. The committee will dedicate Boston's Southwest Corridor bike path, which stretches from Back Bay to Franklin Park, in Lallement's name Oct. 16. The group's ultimate goal is to put a memorial next to the path outside the inventor's final residence on Tremont Street.

   Many members of the Wheelmen, a nationwide organization of antique bicycle enthusiasts, will attend the conference to hear talks on such topics as "The Origins of the Derailleur" and "Did the Automobile Truly Doom the Bicycle Boom?" and to ride their classic "boneshakers," high-wheelers and ordinaries.

   Charlton selectman and coffee shop owner M. Wayne Colby, Massachusetts captain of the Wheelmen, said high-wheelers are treacherous to ride -- he has broken some ribs tumbling from his perch atop a 52-inch wheel -- but a fascination with yesteryear draws plenty of converts from today's high-tech models.

   "People enjoy them immensely. It's a whole different mentality," said Colby, who is decorating Colby's Corner Kitchen on Route 31 with bicycle memorabilia.

   Colby can be seen, in period costume, riding his high-wheel 1887 Columbia LT Roadster in tomorrow's Old Home Day parade in Charlton.

   For more information on the conference, call David V. Herlihy (617-437-0437).

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