'Johnson, the First Rider on the Pedestrian Hobby Horse', 1819.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Coloured aquatint showing Denis Johnson who first imported the hobby horse into Britain in 1818. The forerunner of the bicycle, the 'hobby' or 'dandy horse' was invented by the German Baron Karl von Drais in France in 1817. It was introduced to England the following year by Johnson, a coachmaker of Long Acre, London, who described it as a 'pedestrian curricle'. Hobby horses had no pedals, but were propelled by the rider pushing on the ground with his feet. As there were no brakes, the feet had to be dragged to slow the machine. Johnson started a school where prospective purchasers could learn how to ride the machine, and in 1819, fashionable London society was briefly gripped by a craze for riding a hobby horse.