Penny-farthing, high wheel, high wheeler, and ordinary, are all terms used to describe a type of bicycle with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel that was popular after the boneshaker, until the development of the safety bicycle, in the 1880s. They were the first machines to be called ‘bicycles’.
Although they are now most commonly known as “penny-farthings”, this term was probably not used until they were nearly outdated; the first recorded print reference is 1891 in Bicycling News. It comes from the British penny and farthing coins, one much larger than the other, so that the side view resembles a penny leading a farthing. For most of their reign, they were simply known as “bicycles”. In the late 1890s, the retronym “ordinary” began to be used, to distinguish them from the emerging safety bicycles, and this term or Hi-wheel (and variants) is preferred by many modern enthusiasts.
Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut had their ice cream social on Sunday, June 22, 2014. Reminiscent of the days long, long ago, so many women were dressed in their Victorian day dresses, men in top hats, and James and his penny-Farthing.
James on his own Penny-farthing
What a strange name for this mode of transportation from the late 19th century. Although the trend was short-lived, the penny-farthing became a symbol of the late Victorian era. I asked James to demonstrate the penny-farthing for me. He had to run next to it in order to get on. Then he mounted it while running, drove around, came back and dismounted, sliding off over the small wheel. Strange, but it didn’t seem too difficult, as long as you don’t ask me to do it. He told me he rides every weekend, and that he belongs to an antique bicycle club called the “Wheelmen.”
In 1888, when John Dunlop re-invented the pneumatic tire for his son’s tricycle, the high wheel was made obsolete. The comfortable ride once found only on tall wheels could now be enjoyed on smaller chain-driven bicycles. By 1893, high-wheelers were no longer being produced. Use lingered into the 1920s in track cycling until racing safety bicycles were perfected. Today, enthusiasts ride restored penny-farthings, and a few manufacturers build new ones.
Have you ever tried to ride a penny-farthing?
Bauhaus Art by the group at the school
The Grand Stand of design happened in the early 20th century. The guilty? The Bauhaus. So, what came before? Gradual economic and social changes in the 18th and 19th century caused by the Industrial Revolution. Because of those events, the Bauhaus, a school of different ways of thinking, changed how we viewed and developed art and technology. We are talking about, let’s say for an art example, a painting, and for technology, the Bauhaus balconies or a chair or a teapot and more stuff than you can imagine.
- László Moholy-Nagy
- ‘Bauhaus Balconies’
Silver gelatin photograph
The idea for the school was the gestalt of a learning atmosphere for all, the teacher, the student, and the creator. They all were involved with the process. Triggered by 19th century technological-industrial development, there was no gap between artistic conception and realization. It became easier to design and develop because everyone worked together.
Bauhaus "Wassily" Chair by Marcel Breuer
For example, another member of the staff at the Bauhaus, Marcel Breuer, looked at the tubular form of the bicycle handlebars and made a chair using the concept. No, it wasn’t a chair with pedals. It was a chair with tubular steel supports.
Designed by Marcel Breuer, produced by Knoll®
In spirit and stature, Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair (1925) from Knoll has few equals. Believed to be the first bent tubular steel chair design, the Wassily Chair distills the traditional club chair to a series of strong, spare lines, executed with dynamic material counterpoint. The gleaming chrome-finished tubular steel frame, inspired by the graceful, curving handlebars of the Adler bicycle, is seamless in its assemblage. Thick cowhide leather slings create the design’s seating surfaces, which maintain their crisp tautness for decades. Named for Wassily Kandinsky, the father of abstract painting and a colleague of Breuer’s at the Bauhaus, the Wassily Chair is a symbol of the industrial heroism and engineering invention of the early 20th century. Made in Italy, each piece is stamped with the KnollStudio logo and the designer’s signature. The Wassily Chair is a registered trademark of Knoll, Inc., manufactured by Knoll according to the original and exacting specifications of the designer. The outcome of the grand stand school of design, the Bauhaus.