There is some controversy over who should get the credit for inventing the motorcycle. The idea seems to have occurred to numerous engineers and inventors around Europe and the United States at around the same time. Motorcycles are descended from the safety bicycle, a bicycle with front and rear wheels of the same size and a pedal crank mechanism used to drive the rear wheel.
A German engineer, Gottlieb Daimler, is credited with building the first gas-engined motorcycle in 1885. In his effort, he was assisted by Nikolaus August Otto, who appointed Daimler as technical director of his company which built gas engines. Daimler and Otto worked together with another young engineer, Wilhelm Maybach, trying to develop an internal combustion engine for propelling road vehicles. The engine that was produced with Nikolaus Otto achieved 130 revolutions per minute; however, Daimler and Maybach produced an engine that reached an unprecedented 900 revolutions per minute. The very first gas-engined motorcycle sold for $825 when it debuted in 1908, eight years after Daimler’s death.
In 1889, Daimler and Maybach succeeded in placing their engine into a horse carriage which could attain speeds of 11 miles per hour. This was, in fact, the first four-wheeled automobile. The Daimler Motor Company was thereby launched in 1890 with the help of financial supporters. The company became known as Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft or DMG. Maybach left the company in 1891 and Daimler was squeezed out by the new partners in 1893. When both Maybach and Daimler came back to the company in 1895, DMG turned around and became highly successful.
Gottlieb Daimler later teamed up with Karl Benz to form the Daimler-Benz Corporation. At the same time, Wilhelm Maybach was responsible for the design of the Mercedes automobile. Daimler engines were used by Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin in the airships he was building. When Daimler died in 1900, Maybach continued to develop the Mercedes car as well as the Zeppelin Airship.
Prior to Daimler’s invention of his motorcycle, a steam velocipede was built in 1869 by Sylvester h. Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts. It had two wheels which moved by means of steam propulsion fueled by coal. Roper exhibited his machine at New England fairs and circuses.
Another steam velocipede came on the scene in France two years earlier than Roper’s invention in the United States. The Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede, can be traced to 1867, when Ernest Michaux fitted a small steam engine to a velocipede. This machine was patented the next year with the help of a French engineer named Louis-Guillaume Perreaux.
Still, these were both steam-propelled motorcycles. It would appear to be correct to state that Gottlieb Daimler, whose motorcycle is the prototype of today’s gas-powered motorcycle, should be credited with the invention of the modern-day motorcycle.