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November 15, 2023

The Rudge Coventry Rotary Tricycle From the Late 19th Century

Social, but reserved for the wealthy: even elaborate bicycles like these Starley trikes were expensive. This chassis was used for the world’s first electric vehicle, Gustave Trouvé’s electric Starley tricycle of 1881.

The men and companies involved with the Coventry Rotary tricycle were some of the leading pioneers of bicycle invention and production.

James Starley – considered the “father of the bicycle.” He left Coventry Machinists Co in 1870 and, with William Hillman set up their own business. In 1876 James Starley patented the ‘Coventry Lever’ Tricycle as depicted on the Starley Memorial in Coventry. The ‘lever’ tricycle had evolved from Starley’s first lady’s bicycle, a lever-driven “ordinary” with wheels out of track.

Haynes & Jefferis were two former foremen of James Starley at Smith Starley & Co. and they took up the license from 1875 to produce James Starley’s bicycles. The ‘Coventry Tricycle’ was patented in 1876 and produced from 1877, including production under license by Haynes & Jefferis.

In 1880 Trouvé improved the efficiency of a small electric motor developed by Siemens and using the recently developed rechargeable battery, fitted it to an English James Starley tricycle, inventing the world’s first electric vehicle.

Although this was successfully tested on April 19, 1881 along the Rue Valois in central Paris, he was unable to patent it. Trouvé swiftly adapted his battery-powered motor to marine propulsion; to make it easy to carry his marine conversion to and from his workshop to the nearby River Seine, Trouvé made it portable and removable from the boat, thus inventing the outboard engine. On May 26, 1881 the 5m Trouvé prototype, called Le Téléphone, reached a speed of 1 m/s (3.6 km/h) going upstream at 2.5 m/s (9 km/h) downstream.

Gustave Trouvé’s tricycle, world’s first electric car.

Trouvé exhibited his boat (but not his tricycle) and his electro-medical instruments at the International Electrical Exhibition in Paris and soon after was awarded the Légion d'Honneur. He also miniaturized his electric motor to power a model airship, a dental drill, a sewing machine and a razor.


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