A history of the world in 10 1/2 inches

8 Transport
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The earliest known wheel is to be seen on a pictogram in Uruk, Mesopotamia, dating back to around 3,500BC. A picture of a sled is followed by another of an almost identical sled on wheels. Sailing ships, however, had already been around for much longer. Some say that the aborigines reached Australia by sea around 40,000BC.

The next important invention was the Sedan chair, a closed one-seater vehicle supported on poles and carried by two bearers. There is considerably less support, however, for Dr Johnson's suggestion of a connection with the town of Sedan in France. An etymological link with the Latin sedere,to sit, is more likely.

In 1634 an exclusive right was granted to Sir Sanders Duncome to supply "covered chairs (called sedans)" for British use, though they had been in use in Naples since the late 16th century. Jane (or Jean) Elliott (1727- 1805), poet and third daughter of the second baronet of Minto, was said to have been the last woman in Edinburgh to make regular use of her own sedan chair. Had she preferred company on her travels, she could have taken a coach (named after the Hungarian town of Koc, where multi-passenger wheeled vehicles first appeared around 1500).

In 1818, Denis Johnson of Long Acre took out an English patent for the Velocipede - at the time, a sort of hobby horse, though by 1850 the word was also being used to describe something closer to a bicycle or tricycle. The first word for cyclists appeared in 1869; they called them "Velocipedestrians".

Although the invention of the pedal bicycle was commonly attributed to one Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow, the credit is really due to Kirkpatrick MacMillan (1812-1878) whose half-a-hundredweight, pedal, rod and crankshaft mechanism hit the roads of Dumfries in 1839. Three years later, he rode the 70 miles into Glasgow, becoming, in the course of his trip, one of the first traffic felons when he was fined five shillings for causing a slight injury to a girl who ran across his path.

In 1888 an Act was passed classifying the bicycle as a carriage, thus giving it full rights to use British roads. From then until 1930, however, it was mandatory, while riding a bike, to ring your bell non-stop.

The petrol-driven car arrived in 1896 (with the invention of the electric starter responsible, more than anything else, for driving steam-powered vehicles off the roads.) About 10 years earlier, a Frenchman, Monsieur Huret, had invented a vehicle powered by dogs on treadmills, but early animal liberationists objected too strongly for it to gain popular acceptance.

All this time, however, the trains had been speeding ahead, with the world's first passenger service causing the world's first railway fatality on its inaugural run in 1830 between Liverpool and Manchester. In 1825, George Stephenson had assured a parliamentary enquiry that trains would never exceed 12mph.

Which brings us to underground trains (1890), escalators (1911), commercial airliners (1938) and Concorde (in service in 1976).

And the future? Well, here are the most recent transport improvements registered at the European Patent Office:

Foldable and portable bicycle convertable into a shopping cart (1981);

Sail propulsion bicycle (1983);

Support for suspending a bicycle or the like from a wall (1984);

Means for exercising dogs from a bicycle (1986);

Bicycle tent (1992).

WILLIAM HARTSTON

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