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Karl Drais: Wikis


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Karl Drais ca 1820, then still a baron
Wooden draisine (around 1820), the first two-wheeler

Karl Drais (April 29, 1785 – December 10, 1851) was a German inventor and invented the Laufmaschine ("running machine"), also later called the velocipede, draisine (English) or "draisienne" (French), or nick-named, dandy horse. This incorporated the two-wheeler principle that is basic to the bicycle and motorcycle and meant the beginning of mechanized personal transport. He also invented the earliest typewriter with a keyboard in 1821, later developed into an early stenograph machine, and a wood-saving cooker including the earliest hay chest.


Karl Drais was born in Karlsruhe, with the aristocratic title Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Christian Ludwig, Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn, but as he was a democrat, he did not use his title. His father was the chief judge of Baden, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig von Drais. His mother was Margarete Ernestine von Kaltenthal. The Margrave of Baden at that time, Carl Friedrich von Baden, was one of Karl's godfathers.

From 1803 to 1805, Drais studied architecture, agriculture and physics at the University of Heidelberg.

He joined the civil service as forestry official and in 1810 received the title of a chief forest ranger, but was not yet assigned an adequate position. One year later he was suspended from active service, but continued to receive his salary so that he could devote more time to his inventions.

Drais' most influential invention was the velocipede, the earliest form of a two-wheeler - without pedals. His first reported ride from Mannheim to "Schwetzinger Relaishaus" (a coaching inn, located in today's "Rheinau", a section of Mannheim) took place on June 12, 1817. In the same year, he undertook his second trip from Gernsbach to Baden-Baden and further ones.

On January 12, 1818, Drais was awarded a Großherzogliches Privileg, similar to our modern patent (Baden had no patent law at that time). In addition, he was appointed Professor of Mechanics by Grand Duke Karl. This was merely an honorary title and not related to any university or other institution. At the same time, he retired from the civil service and continued to receive his salary as a kind of inventor's pension.

From 1822 to 1825, Drais joined a German expedition to Brazil, headed by Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff.

It has been posited that the 1816 Year Without a Summer, with starving horses and resulting problems with transportation, has been the reason for Drais's invention of the velocipede. [1]

He died in his hometown of Karlsruhe in 1851.


  • Hans-Erhard Lessing: Automobilität – Karl Drais und die unglaublichen Anfänge. Maxime-Verlag, Leipzig 2003. ISBN 3-931965-22-8
  • Hermann Ebeling: Der Freiherr von Drais: das tragische Leben des „verrückten Barons“. Ein Erfinderschicksal im Biedermeier. Braun, Karlsruhe 1985. ISBN 3-7650-8045-4
  • Heinz Schmitt: Karl Friedrich Drais von Sauerbronn: 1785–1851; ein badischer Erfinder; Ausstellung zu seinem 200. Geburtstag; Stadtgeschichte im Prinz-Max-Palais, Karlsruhe, 9. März-26. Mai 1985; Städt. Reiss-Museum Mannheim, 5. Juli–18. August 1985. Stadtarchiv Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe 1985.
  • Michael Rauck: Karl Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn: Erfinder und Unternehmer (1785–1851). Steiner, Stuttgart 1983. ISBN 3-515-03939-2
  • Karl Hasel: Karl Friedrich Frhr. Drais von Sauerbronn, in Peter Weidenbach (Red.): Biographie bedeutender Forstleute aus Baden-Württemberg. Schriftenreihe der Landesforstverwaltung Baden-Württemberg, Band 55. Herausgegeben vom Ministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Umwelt Baden-Württemberg. Landesforstverwaltung Baden-Württemberg und Baden-Württembergische Forstliche Versuchs- und Forschungsanstalt, Stuttgart und Freiburg im Breisgau 1980, pp. 99–109.

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