The massive 1815 eruption of the Tambora Volcano in Indonesia killed nearly 50,000 people and gave birth to the bicycle.
Dense clouds of smoke and debris covered much of the northern hemisphere for many months and in 1816 lead to the “year without summer.” Crops failed and millions of farm horses died from starvation.
That triggered German inventor Karl Drais to consider better ways to move people without horsepower – other than walking.
In 1817 in his Mannheim laboratory Drais unveiled the velocipede – what we today call the bicycle. Originally he called it the Laufmaschine; German for “running machine.” And it did produce a lot of laughter. Soon the laughing public started calling it the dandy-horse because it was mostly dandy young men with jobs in the city and wearing office attire that were ridding the new machines.
They sat on a leather saddle draped over a wooden frame with two wooden wheels and their feet ran along the ground.
It’s appropriate that this new method of transportation should be born in Baden-Wurttemberg in southwest Germany. The area is the birthplace for many of the world’s advances in ground transportation.
The 200th anniversary of the bicycle will be saluted next year in two of the world’s finest transportation museums. They’re a few blocks from each other in Stuttgart, capital of the region. One is the Mercedes-Benz Museum; the other is the Porsche Museum.
Both of these high-end car manufacturers, based in Stuttgart, were building bicycles before their assembly lines started turning out some of the world’s finest motorized vehicles.
Porsche still manufactures bicycles, priced at $4,500, as well as $1 million cars. Both museums display the history of these world-famous cars, starting with the world’s first production car built in 1886 by Karl Benz, about 20 years before Henry Ford started his automobile production company.
Stuttgart, being an industrial center, was heavily bombed by the Allies during W.W.II and its vehicle production factories were flattened. When the war ended Mercedes again started building bicycles to get the company back on its feet.
The world’s first bicycle is on display in the Mercedes-Benz Museum, along with some of the world’s most classic automobiles and other vehicles – such as the first motorcycle. Gottlieb Daimler loved inventing engines. In 1885 he mounted a gas engine on a wood-frame bicycle and created the first motorcycle. Drivers lasted less than 30 minutes in the saddle because the engine made their tush too hot.
German banks advised both Benz and Daimler if they wanted their firms to survive they’ll have to amalgamate – thus today we have Daimler-Benz AG. Mercedes-Benz is the product name for the cars built by Daimler-Benz. Mercedes was the name of a young daughter of an engineer at Daimler who designed an engine that became the best on the motorsport racetracks. The engineer wanted his engine design named for his daughter and the name stuck.
The seven-year-old Porsche museum displays vehicles ranging from Porsche fire trucks, police cars, farm tractors to million dollar cars you’ll find in some Toronto driveways. The world’s fastest racecars are also in the museum.
Car aficionados from around the world are drawn to Stuttgart to tour the world-class museums. If you attend one museum for 8 euros, you get a 25 per cent reduction on tickets to the other museum.
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