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Kirkpatrick Macmillan Inventor

  • Name  : Macmillan
  • Born  : 1812
  • Died  : 1878
  • Category  : Inventors
  • Finest Moment : Invention of the pedal bicycle, 1839

The fifth son of Robert Macmillan, blacksmith at Courthill Smithy, at Keir Mill, Dumfriesshire, Kirkpatrick was baptised on 18 September 1812. Helping his father at the forge would have given him insight into metal-working and mechanical devices. He became assistant at 22 to the blacksmith of Walter Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuth, at Drumlanrig, and worked there for some time before returning to Courthill to assist his father.

Hobby-horses were in use, two-wheeled early bikes which had to be propelled along by pushing one's feet on the ground. Macmillan started to think how to make them self-propelled without having to do this. By about the end of 1839 he had cracked the problem, and so had invented the modern bicycle. He was soon making the 14 'mile journey to Dumfries in under an hour, power being provided by a horizontal reciprocating movement of the rider's feet on the pedals.

The bike weighed about 25Kg and must have been hard work, but in June 1842 he made an adventurous trip to Glasgow, a two-day journey of some 70 miles. He had the misfortune, while riding through the massed crowds in the Gorbals, Glasgow, to run down a wee girl who had run into his path. He was fined 5 Scots shillings for speeding at 8mph, but the magistrate was so impressed by the invention that legend has it he asked for a demonstration and paid for the fine.

On his way back home, he raced the stage coach, before settling down to a quiet and homely life. But others, more commercially-minded, were soon sniffing round this invention (never patented by Macmillan). Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow copied his machine in 1846, and passed on the design to so many people that for more than 50 years he was regarded as the inventor. An English company sold it for #7.

Macmillan was nicknamed Daft Pate by his local villagers. None of this bothered Macmillan, who was a keen churchgoer and local character. Shortly after his father's death, in 1854 he married Elizabeth Goldie. They had two surviving children. Macmillan pulled teeth for both horses and humans, and played the fiddle at weddings. He died in Courthill, on 26 January 1878. A plaque on his smithy home reads 'He builded Better than He Knew'. Macmillan's early bike can be seen in the Glasgow Transport Museum.

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