Cycling History

Cycling Patents of Yesteryear: No. 6 – Ogden Bolton Jr’s Electrical Bicycle, 1895

Sometimes cycling is just too much like hard work. All that pushing of pedals and pumping of legs can wear a body out. So what better than adding a little motive power to your bike? So thought Ogden Bolton Jr. of Canton, Ohio, when he submitted his patent application for an Electrical Bicycle in September, 1895. Remarkably Bolton’s design didn’t include a traditional drive mechanism of pedals, crankset and rear cog, with the motive power instead coming from an ingenious battery powered revolving armature that would drive the rear wheel. This rather begs the question whether his invention could be described as a bicycle at all; pedal propulsion being a defining feature of the bicycle. It also seems a rather limiting factor on the purpose of the bicycle in getting from A to B and back again. Maybe Nineteenth Century battery technology was much better than I’m prepared to give it credit for, but, given that a typical modern day electrical bicycle has a range of about 20 miles on battery power alone, the chances were that you’d be stranded after just a few miles had been ridden on Bolton’s bike. Particularly if the rider was a bit heavy on the handlebar mounted rheostat that regulated the speed.

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A side view of the electrical bicycle (Fig.1) and a cross-sectional view of the central portion of the motor-wheel (Fig. 3)

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An enlarged view of the central portion of the motor-wheel

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Plan view of the bicycle (Fig. 6) and detail view of the handlebar mounted rheostat (Fig. 7)

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