Kirkpatrick Macmillan was born in 1812 in Dumfriesshire, the son of a blacksmith. He did a variety of jobs as a young man, before settling into working with his father in 1824. At around that time he saw a hobbyhorse being ridden along a nearby road, and decided to make one for himself. Upon completion, he realised what a radical improvement it would be if he could propel it without putting his feet on the ground. Working at his smithy, he completed his new machine in around 1839.
This first pedal bicycle was propelled by a horizontal reciprocating movement of the rider’s feet on the pedals. This movement was transmitted to cranks on the rear wheel by connecting rods; the machine was extremely heavy and the physical effort required to ride it must have been considerable. Nevertheless, Macmillan quickly mastered the art of riding it on the rough country roads, and was soon accustomed to making the fourteen-mile journey to Dumfries in less than an hour. His next exploit was to ride the 68 miles into Glasgow in June 1842. The trip took him two days and he was fined five shillings for causing a slight injury to a small girl who ran across his path.
He never thought of patenting his invention or trying to make any money out of it, but others who saw it were not slow to realize its potential, and soon copies began to appear for sale. Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow copied his machine in 1846 and passed on the details to so many people that for more than 50 years he was generally regarded as the inventor of the bicycle. However, Macmillan was quite unconcerned with the fuss his invention had prompted, preferring to enjoy the quiet country life to which he was accustomed. He died on 26 January 1878.