John Kemp Starley

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John Kemp Starley
John Kemp Starley
Born(1855-12-24)24 December 1855
Died29 October 1901(1901-10-29) (aged 45)
OccupationIndustrialist Inventor
Years active1877–1901
Known forOwning Starley & Sutton Co
1886 Rover safety bicycle at the British Motor Museum

John Kemp Starley (24 December 1855[1] – 29 October 1901[2]) was an English inventor and industrialist who is widely considered the inventor of the modern bicycle,[3][4][5][6] and also originator of the tradename Rover.

Early life[edit]

Born on 24 December 1855[1] Starley lived on Church Hill, Walthamstow, London, England. He was the son of a gardener, John Starley, and Mary Ann (née Coppen).[7] In 1872 he moved to Coventry to work with his uncle James Starley, an inventor. He worked with his uncle and William Hillman for several years building Ariel cycles.[citation needed]


In 1877, he started a new business Starley & Sutton Co with William Sutton, a local cycling enthusiast. They set about developing bicycles that were safer and easier to use than the prevailing penny farthing or "ordinary" bicycles. They started by manufacturing tricycles, and by 1883 their products were being branded as "Rover".[citation needed]

In 1885, Starley made history when he produced the Rover Safety Bicycle.[8][9] The Rover was a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven cycle with two similar-sized wheels, making it more stable than the previous high wheeler designs. Cycling magazine said the Rover had "set the pattern to the world" and the phrase was used in their advertising for many years.

J. K. Starley & Co. Ltd advertisement

In 1889, the company became J. K. Starley & Co. Ltd and in the late 1890s, it had become the Rover Cycle Company Ltd.


Starley died suddenly on 29 October 1901, and was succeeded as managing director of the firm by Harry Smyth.[citation needed] Soon after Starley's death the Rover company began building motorcycles and then cars.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Starley, John Kemp". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/48208. Retrieved 24 December 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Bicycle History
  3. ^ Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing (2014). Bicycle Design, An Illustrated History. MIT Press. pp. 160–161. ISBN 978-0-262-02675-8. The most famous of the rear-drive safeties introduced in 1885 was the Rover, produced in Coventry by John Kemp Starley.
  4. ^ Herlihy, David V. (2004). Bicycle: History. Yale University Press. pp. 225. ISBN 0-300-10418-9. The Rover pattern very quickly improved, and it not only prevailed as the universal bicycle style, it also triggered an unprecedented world-wide demand that culminated in the great boom.
  5. ^ Berto, Frank J.; Ron Shepherd; et al. (2008) [2000]. The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA, USA: Cycle Publishing/Van der Plas Publications. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-892495-59-4. Archived from the original on 6 June 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2017. There is also general agreement that J.K. Starley's Rover was the first true safety bicycle.
  6. ^ Berto, Frank J.; et al. (2016) [2000]. The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA, USA: Cycle Publishing/Van der Plas Publications. ISBN 978-1-892495-77-8. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  7. ^ Biography at Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow
  8. ^ "Bicycle Association leads birthday celebrations for JK Starley, creator of the Safety bicycle". Bicycle Association. Archived from the original on 4 January 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  9. ^ The Britannica Guide to Inventions That Changed the Modern World. Britannica Educational Publishing. 20 December 2009. p. 124. ISBN 978-1-61530-064-8.