Notable Scots: Innovation & Discovery
Kirkpatrick Macmillan (1812-1878):
Blacksmith & Inventor
"He builded better than he knew."
~ inscription on a plaque on Macmillan's residence in Kier 1
While there is some debate as to who really invented the first bicycle; Scotland claims it was her own Kirkpatrick Macmillan. Macmillan, born in Kier, Dumfries & Galloway, was a skilled blacksmith. Around 1824, he saw a gentleman ride a hobby horse down the road in front of his workshop, and decided to make one for himself. After he gained some practice riding on his own hobby horse, he decided that would be much easier to ride if he could propel it without having to put his feet on the ground.
This final version of this new machine was completed around 1839. It had a rear-wheel drive and was made of solid wood. Its wooden wheels were rimmed with iron - the front wheel, which was used to steer, had a 30 inch diameter; the rear wheel, which was connected to a crank and pedals, had a 40 inch diameter. The whole structure weighted a hefty 57 pounds.
With practice, Macmillan was soon able to cover the fourteen mile distance between Kier and Dumfries in one hour on his bicycle. In June of 1842, he went to Glasgow to visit his brother, making the 68-mile trek in two days. Upon his arrival in Gorbals, however, a throng of people crowded to see him, and a child was knocked over in the crush. The Glasgow Herald reported that this "gentleman from Dumfries-shire . . . bestride a velocipede . . . of ingenious design" was fined five shillings for causing the incident.
It never occurred to Macmillan to patent his invention or to make money off of it - he was contented to enjoy his quiet country life, leaving others to profit from their copies.