searching for history of monocyclist/unicyclist Lewis Harper

Does anyone know anything about Lewis Harper and his early unicycles? He designed and made unicycles and monocycles. He had a shop or factory at my hometown of McHugh, Minnesota, at least in 1894. At an unknown date he supposedly brought one of his machines (a monocycle?) to an exhibition in England and became the first person to achieve a speed of 30 mph. I’m researching my hometown history and would appreciate any information about Harper.

I too am looking for information on bicycle and monocycle builder Lewis Harper from Minnesota circa 1895. He is credited with being the first to reach 30 mph on a one wheel machine. My research also places his operation in McHugh, MN but I can not even find that town today. Anyone have any information on Harper or McHugh?

Lewis Harper

McHugh, Minn. is a ghost town in southern Becker County. None of its business buildings exist anymore. Before Harper started his shop here, it looks like he lived nearby, around New York Mills, Minn., from where he had applied for a patent on his 1892 monowheel. The 1880 census shows a John and Ann Harper family living here in Newton Township, Otter Tail County. Lewis might have been one of their several children but might have already living away from home. Most of the children were born in Ontario, Canada so maybe Lewis was from there too. It’s just a guess but based on the children’s ages he might have been born around 1860. I see that, starting 1898, there is a “Killan, Harper & Company” of Beverly, Mass. producing the “Beverly Bicycle.” I’m wondering if this is where Lewis Harper went next.

John Foss might know. I think he was around back then.

He was the owner of Patent number, 511,139, the details of which you can view here.

[Edit]: Wow, didn’t notice how old this thread is.

Neat info. Thanks for sharing.

Is that like greg harpers kin or somthing?


There is also some information here.

The information is limited but there are some other names to try to locate and contact.

Yeah, but I’m from Michigan, not Minnesota. :slight_smile:

I don’t know much about historical monocycles, or unicycles for that matter. It might be fun to research, though the information seems sketchy at best. The research I’m aware of seems to always be inconclusive as to who “did” unicycling first. Claimants range from the 1870s to even after the turn of the century, mostly by entertainers since nobody was trying to market them.

From what I know about monocycles, they look really cool but are heavy, hard to steer, and even harder to transport. I don’t see any practicality in them other than novelty; they look really cool. I’ve ridden one of these a bit, but never had enough time to figure out the steering. Also it was quite a squeeze for me to sit in there and not get whacked by my own knees. Adjustability is probably another issue for monocycles.

30mph sounds pretty incredible based on the diagram linked by Jjuggle. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he was going downhill for this, as 30mph would be such a huge deal in those days I don’t think they would make a distinction. That Monocycle page mentions how Harper’s machine looks very similar to one of the ones above (on the same page). That one has direct drive, so it wasn’t going to go anywhere fast (or freewheel, from the look of it). Harper’s either had gearing, a freewheel, or a ton of guts for him to coast it down a hill with his feet off the pedals!

That Monocycle page also lists a second monocycle by Harper further down.

Lewis Harper, McHugh MN

Thanks for the info on McHugh, MN.

I was looking for this town and Lewis Harper while doing research on a Monocycle found on the referenced dself site. The “Langmaak” pictured there is credited to Harper by an Ian Bennett (does anyone know of him?).

I now believe this information is incorrect. Harper did indeed patent a one wheeled machine but it is not the Langmaak introduced in San Francisco in the 1880’s.

So far, I have not been able to find an actual photograph of the machine so our replica was built using data from original patents. The 7 ft. + machine is currently on display at the Metz Bicycle Museum, Freehold, NJ.

Using Arms for Balance

One of the things that I am wondering about is how they actually balance on a lot of those Monowheels. In all of the ones where the rider is encased in the spokes he can’t use his arms for balance!


Jack Wiley’s book “Inside the Wheel: The Complete Guide to Monocycles” might help. Its published by Solipaz Publishing Company in California. Good luck with your research!