The history part of the wikipedia unicycle entry has been nagging at me for a while, earlier this week I gained access to the full OED (Oxford English Dictionary) so I had a little look.
The earliest cited reference to unicycle is April 1869 for hemmings unicycle velocipede (the yankee flyer), which is a design for something we’d call a monocycle. However this predates the penny-farthing (late 1869 or early 1871 depending on source). Intresting it suggests that unicycling might not come from wheelie-ing penny-farthings/Ordinaries.
So I asked a historian of my acquaintence where to go from here, this is a bit of a work in progress, but we now have an antedate for unicycle from 1860 (I need to check this) from a british magazine. More excitingly there is a much earlier sighting of something that may be a unicycle. A plate in the triumph of Maximillian apparently shows a one-wheeled convayance. The Date ? A stunning 1516 !
I’ll update this when more digging has been done & I know what I can share & what is still copyrighted
Check out issue 4* of Uni - The Unicycle Magazine when it comes out. We’ve something MUCH earlier than 1516!
yes we’re still working hard on it - there are not enough hours in the day at the moment. I have asked the higher authorities for an extra eight hours, but no luck so far. I’ll post when I have a definite date.
And think, back in 1516, you wouldn’t be hearing “Enter the Gladiator” for a few hundred years!
Even if there is evidence of really early unis, I doubt that they were more than freakish examples – I can’t imagine that they’d achieve any sort of even remote popularity until the 1870s with the advent of penny farthings. It may be that the uni, like bird’s feathers, was the sort of thing that got invented several times, indep’ly, due to the evolution of wheeled conveyances. That’s my hunch.
Actually it suggests that monocycles developed separately/before penny-farthings. In the Yankee Flyer does it show the rider completely off the ground, or using feet to “help” balance? Probably not, as it was probably very heavy so feet wouldn’t be great at that. Were these things actually built, or are these patent drawings or similar?
Keep up the research! We still don’t have the “invention” of the unicycle nailed down, in part due to various claims by late nineteenth century entertainers all claiming to have invented the thing. Some even after the turn of the century!
It will be interesting to see what you’re able to uncover. Please note that many of the older designs you may find may or may not have been actually built. Your 1516 example is probably one of those. I’ve seen pictures of a much older piece of sculpture, of four funeral pall-bearers with wheels between their feet, from the year 1000 or earlier if I remember correctly. But I assume this is a fanciful design, not a depiction of something that actually happened.
But there’s no telling what people may have done way back in the past, we can only find out what was documented.