Kirkpatrick Macmillan

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Kirkpatrick Macmillan (Born 2 September 1812 in Keir, Dumfries and Galloway; died 26 January 1878 in Keir) was a Scottish blacksmith. He is generally credited with inventing the rear-wheel driven bicycle.

Invention of pedal driven bicycle?[edit]

According to the research of his relative James Johnston in the 1890s, Macmillan was the first to invent the pedal-driven bicycle.[1][2] Johnston, a corn trader and tricyclist, had the firm aim, in his own words "to prove that to my native country of Dumfries belongs the honour of being the birthplace of the invention of the bicycle".[3]

Macmillan allegedly completed construction of a pedal driven bicycle of wood in 1839 that included iron-rimmed wooden wheels, a steerable wheel in the front and a larger wheel in the rear which was connected to pedals via connecting rods.

A Glasgow newspaper reported in 1842 an accident in which an anonymous "gentleman from Dumfries-shire... bestride a velocipede... of ingenious design" knocked over a pedestrian in the Gorbals and was fined five British shillings. Johnston identified Macmillan as that gentleman.

A 1939 plaque on the family smithy in Courthill reads "He builded better than he knew." Yet MacMillan lived in Glasgow and worked at the Vulcan Foundry during the relevant period around 1840, not in Courthill.[4]

Thomas McCall's first (top) and improved velocipede from the "English Mechanic" of 1869 - the first rear-wheel pedalled bicycle according to some historians


The Johnston doctrine of the bright, modest and industrious tradesman, achieving what others would only do decades later, captured the public imagination, especially in Scotland. It was also well accepted among historians, at least British ones, in the early 20th century.

Johnston did not present conclusive proofs, though he wrote that he had them. Sceptics allege that MacMillan design which he presented was a composite of the two McCall velocipedes of 1869. At the behest of Johnston, Thomas McCall built a replica to be presented as MacMillan's at the 1896 Stanley show and now at Dumfries Museum, perhaps for financial reasons.[5]

The identification of MacMillan as recipient of an early speeding ticket for his bicycling is doubted by Alastair Dodds on grounds that its application would require an early Victorian newspaper to call a blacksmith a "gentleman".[4] However, that fails to explain what the velocipede of ingenious design was. Misgivings did not deter popular retelling with interesting details from sources unknown.[6]

However, it is said that Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow copied his machine in 1846 and passed on the details to so many people that for more than 50 years he was generally regarded as the inventor of the bicycle.[7]

Other claims to invention[edit]

Some historians who have studied the invention of the pedal-driven bicycle, including David Herlihy, state that Macmillan was not the first inventor. Herlihy states there is no contemporary documentary evidence that a pedal-crank design was applied to a 2-wheeled vehicle and that letters from customers in Scotland to the Michaux company in 1868 state that all of the human-powered vehicles there are tricycles and quadracycles.[8] A similar claim is made in a short introduction in David Gordon Wilson's Bicycling Science, 3rd edition.[9]

See also[edit]


  • Alastair Dodds: Kirkpatrick MacMillan - Inventor of the bicycle: fact or hearsay?, Proceedings of 3rd Int. Cycling-History Conference, Neckarsulm 1992, pp. 1–25
  • Nicholas Oddy: Kirkpatrick MacMillan, the inventor of the pedal cycle or the invention of cycle history?Proceedings of 1st ICHC, Glasgow 1990, pp. 24–32
  • Nicholas Clayton: The first bicycle!, The Boneshaker #113, Spring 1987, pp. 25–29


  1. ^ Kirkpatrick Macmillan on the BBC Biography pages
  2. ^ Kirkpatrick Macmillan on The Scotsman's webpage
  3. ^ James Johnston:The first bicycle, The Gallovidian (Dumfries) #4, Winter 1899
  4. ^ a b Alastair Dodds: What did Kirkpatrick MacMillan invent?, The Boneshaker #127, Winter 1991, PP. 11-16
  5. ^ Nicholas Clayton: The first bicycle!, The Boneshaker #113, Spring 1987, pp. 25–29
  6. ^ A little story of how it happened
  7. ^
  8. ^ David V. Herlihy: Bicycle - The History, 2004, pp. 65-69
  9. ^ David Gordon Wilson: Bicycling Science 3rd ed. 2004, pp.12-13