Sunday, August 29, 2010

Karl von Drais

Karl von Drais (April 29, 1785 – December 10, 1851) was a German inventor and invented the Laufmaschine ("running machine"), also later called the velocipede, draisine (English) or "draisienne" (French), also nick-named the dandy horse. This incorporated the two-wheeler principle that is basic to the bicycle and motorcycle and was the beginning of mechanized personal transport. Drais also invented the earliest typewriter with a keyboard in 1821, later developed into an early stenograph machine, and a wood-saving cooker including the earliest hay chest.

Karl von Drais was born in Karlsruhe with the aristocratic title Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Christian Ludwig, Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn, but as he was a democrat, he did not use his title. His father was the chief judge of Baden, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig von Drais. His mother was Margarete Ernestine von Kaltenthal. The Margrave of Baden, Carl Friedrich von Baden, was one of Karl's godfathers.

From 1803 to 1805, von Drais studied architecture, agriculture and physics at the University of Heidelberg.

He joined the civil service as a forestry official and in 1810 received the title of chief forester, but was not yet assigned a commensurate position. One year later he was suspended from active service, but continued to receive his salary so that he could devote more time to his inventions.

Von Drais's most influential invention was the Laufmaschine or velocipede, the earliest form of a bicycle, yet without pedals. His first reported ride, from Mannheim to the "Schwetzinger Relaishaus" (a coaching inn, located in "Rheinau", today a district of Mannheim) took place on June 12, 1817. In the same year, he undertook his second trip, from Gernsbach to Baden-Baden, and others.

On January 12, 1818, von Drais was awarded a grand-ducal privilege (Großherzogliches Privileg) to exploit his invention. Baden had no patent law at that time. Grand Duke Karl also appointed Drais Professor of Mechanics. This was merely an honorary title, not related to any university or other institution. Von Drais retired from the civil service and continued to receive his salary as a kind of inventor's pension.

From 1822 to 1825, von Drais took part in a German expedition to Brazil, headed by Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff.

Von Drais died in his home town of Karlsruhe in 1851.

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