1871 James Starley Ariel (Replica of the first penny farthing)

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James Starley is considered the father of the cycle industry. The Starley and Hillman patent was the first penny farthing, and his Ariel bicycle led to the founding of three of the most important British vehicle manufacturers:

1. William Hillman subsequently founded ‘Hillman, Herbert & Cooper’ who made ‘The Premier’, the first successful safety bicycle. Hillman later made cars.

2. James Starley’s company went through various transformations, eventually evolving into D Rudge & Co, which became Rudge-Whitworth.

3. Starley’s nephew J.K Starley, who worked for him, founded Rover.

The Ariel name resurfaced in the 1890s as the Ariel Cycle Co.


1871 Starley Ariel

with Tangent spoked wheels

Replica of the first penny farthing

40″ front wheel



WIDTH: 21″

Limited Production: frame no 4

I have the remains of an 1873 Ariel, but it’s too rusty for a practical restoration. As a result I was interested in a replica version. This copy of the first (1871) penny farthing was built by a friend who is a master craftsman. He has only made four, using the original patent (below) as his design guide.

The wheel design on this first model of ‘ordinary’ (penny farthing) is particularly interesting: if you examine the photos in detail you can see how these first wire spokes were fitted. This first pattern of Ariel also has a chain tensioner fitted to the centre of the pedal axles for spoke adjustment.

These machines were originally built along the lines of a wooden wheel velocipede. The front wheel is 40″ and the rear wheel is larger than later penny farthings. It could be considered a ‘transitional’ velocipede, but with metal wheels and spokes. The 40″ front wheel makes it easier for learning to ride.


1) Starley & Hillman Ariel patent dated 11 August 1870, presumably when they were both working for CMC.
2) Starley left CMC 27 Nov. 1870 and was making Ariel’s by Christmas. see two letters to The Field. May 1872.
3) Hillman left CMC on 28 Jan 1871 and maybe joined Starley as the partnership became Starley & Co.
4) W.B.Smith had joined the partnership by 28 Feb 1872, the date of the Ariel open-head registered design and it became Smith & Starley & Co. after 24 Dec 1872 when The London Gazette announced that Hillman had retired from the partnership.
5) In 1874 Ariel bicycle production was passed over to their employees Haynes and Jefferis.
6) Starley patent 3595, 17 Nov. covers tangent spoking, together with his ladies model and two-man version, both highly impractical, but later developed into the Coventry tricycle.
7) The license for H&J to make the Tangent is dated 13 May 1876 (Coventry Record Office 153/14) Haynes and Jefferis began advertising it in Dec 1875 so I don’t thing Smith and Starley ever made Tangents.

8) The Tangent and Special Tangent were made up to 1880 but dropped by Rudge in 1881 although I think the wheel continued for a while on their Coventry tricycle.

9) Jan 1877, Voluntary liquidation of Smith and Starley

10) Nov 1878 Attempted flotation of Smith Starley & Co. apparently failed and the assets were purchased by Woodcock and amalgamated with Haynes & Jefferis as the Coventry Tricycle Co. In Nov 1880, it became D.Rudge & Co.


















Thanks to Nick Clayton for sending me the text at the top of the page