The first motorized cycle could hardly be called a motorcycle by today’s standards, but as a historian, I am amazed at how forward-thinking its inventor was for the times.  Sylvester Howard Roper was born 24 Nov., 1823 and died 1 June, 1896.  As the Civil War dragged on and thousands of young men lay dying on foreign soil, Roper was able to invent a steam carriage in 1863. 

                                Roper’s motocycle, early version 

Following the carriage, he invented the steam velocipede between 1867 and 1869.  Roper worked for the Springfield Armory during the war and was often seen driving around Boston in his steam carriage.   

                                 A later model steam motocycle, Roper, inventor

Roper’s “motocycle” was powered by steam generated from a coal burning apparatus mounted to the frame.  While much of his machine is hard to class by today’s standards, other parts are still being used today, such as the twisting throttle control.  The gas-powered motorcycle certainly used much of the technology Roper used in his steam-powered version.

In order to understand the times, and what everyday life was like when Roper was inventing these machines, see  I think you’ll agree, he was a remarkable visionary.

 His machine was hugely popular at exhibitions, but on the streets was found noisy, smelly, and annoying, frightening passing horses and humans alike.    

Few can say they died while doing what they loved most, but Sylvester Roper certainly could.  He died in 1896 while putting a later model velocipede around the track near Harvard Bridge, Cambridge, Mass.  Before falling from his machine and being pronounced dead, he was clocked at 40 mph.  His autopsy showed he died of heart failure, but whether his heart condition caused his fall, or vice versa was never known.