1839 Macmillan Bicycle Replica

1839 Macmillan Bicycle Replica

Front wheel 32″ & Rear wheel 43″

both wheels wooden with metal ‘tyre’


WIDTH: 25″


An original Macmillan bicycle has never been found, as a result of which, there is no conclusive proof that it ever existed. Nevertheless, the inventor Kirkpatrick Macmillan is hailed as a hero in Scotland, and much debate has taken place over the past 125 years on the subject of whether he should be considered the inventor of the pedal bicycle.

Though it’s not known for certain if it existed in 1839, the 1896 replica still exists, on display in a Scottish museum. And the question of whether or not the Scottish inventor made the first bicycle – or if it was first made by Michaux in the 1860s – probably depends on whether you are Scottish or French!


According to the research of his descendant James Johnston in the 1890s, Kirkpatrick Macmillan was the first to invent the pedal-driven bicycle. Johnston, a corn trader and tricyclist, had the firm aim, in his own words “to prove that to my native country of Dumfries belongs the honour of being the birthplace of the invention of the bicycle”.

Macmillan allegedly completed construction of a pedal driven bicycle of wood in 1839 that included iron-rimmed wooden wheels, a steerable wheel in the front and a larger wheel in the rear which was connected to pedals via connecting rods.

A Glasgow newspaper reported in 1842 an accident in which an anonymous “gentleman from Dumfries-shire… bestride a velocipede… of ingenious design” knocked over a pedestrian in the Gorbals and was fined five British shillings. Johnston identified Macmillan as that gentleman.

A 1939 plaque on the family smithy in Courthill reads “He builded better than he knew.” However… MacMillan lived in Glasgow and worked at the Vulcan Foundry during the relevant period around 1840, not in Courthill.

The Johnston doctrine of the bright, modest and industrious tradesman, achieving what others would only do decades later, captured the public imagination, especially in Scotland. It was also well accepted among historians, at least British ones, in the early 20th century.

Nevertheless, no original Macmillan bicycle was ever found, and skeptics suggested that Johnson had a craftsman build one retrospectively using two velocipedes. At the behest of Johnston, Thomas McCall did build a replica to be presented as MacMillan’s at the 1896 Stanley Cycle Show, and that now resides at Dumfries Museum (shown below).

This Macmillan is an imposing size and it’s intersting to see the thinking behind its operation. It’s in good condition though it’s not easy to ride.