Karl von Drais and his „Eureka!“ on ice

28th International Cycling History Conference


30 May 2017

 An Investigation of Tambora Hypothesis I & II

In Relation to the Invention of the Running Machine

    By Jost Pietsch, Munich


We have a reference by Karl von Drais himself which – as it seems – was overlooked all the time. It is known that he had declared his idea for the running machine was taken from skating (Badwochenblatt, 29 July 1817, p188/189). And in his description of his invention published later in 1817 (DIE LAUFMASCHINE DES FREIHERRN KARL VON DRAIS/front page, bottom) he adds that the principles of skating and of the fast going running machine are of the same kind. And he supports it with a convincing detail: ”As fast as one is able to kick-step the leg for a moment as fast the drive will continue during repose.” What the inventor means is that skating and kick-stepping the running machine produces a momentum that gives a benefit even when the sportsman remains passive.

This shows that Karl von Drais had his “eureka!” on ice and his idea was to transfer it to overland travel. Therefore the running machine is an apparatus on wheels to imitate skating on land with the important benefit of preserving the momentum of the movement. It offers the comfort of sitting while kick-stepping the machine, which gives an additional benefit by unburdening the legs from the weight of the body, so that they could use their whole force exclusively for the movement. Both ideas save energy. The miracle of balancing was an inconceivable phenomenon. At last it was a discovery and a reward for the courage to build such a whimsical slim wooden machine on two wheels in line with a seat in between and a steering for the front wheel. The running machine is an amalgamating of the principle of von Drais’ fahrmachine with the principle of skating.

No horse (as suggested) had to inspire this invention – not even a dead one. And as well therefore an eruption of a volcano had not been necessary.