On 01 January 2018 at 17:12 | updated on 15 May 2018 at 18:25

The story of John Spence, a brilliant, unknown inventor of a roller skate in the UK

The story of John Spence, a brilliant, unknown inventor of a roller skate in the UK

The biography of John Spence could be a children's story. He was an inventor in the XIX century and worked in many different fields during his life, in search of his right path. His dreams and his everyday life revolved around the mechanics...


Biography of John Spence

John Spence was the son of a tanner in Linlithgow. At the age of four or five, he discovered his preference for mechanics. However, he could not learn from books because the technical requirements were not available for him.
But this did not prevent him from expanding his skills by observing many machines and their functionality. Rolling and levers intrigued his childish mind and he was only happy when he could build something with his hands.

Shoemaker due to the circumstances

At the age of 12, he studied with a shoemaker, but he was never contracted. He learned so fast that he was able to work without help after one or two weeks of observation.

From the shoe to the steam

After a few years, he was tired of working as a shoemaker and decided to go to Glasgow. He tried to find a job in the local crafts, but was unsuccessful. He returned to his hometown Linlithgow and got a job where he monitored a steam engine. He had to oil the machine and keep the oven running. His friends could never understand the satisfaction he had in this task, but he was very happy to watch the wheels spin.

The shoe made of fabric

After spending two years watching the mechanical ballet, Spence went back to make shoes... but the mechanics kept chasing his mind. So in favor of his purse, wife, family and friends, he continued to invent various machines. In 1814, he was so tired of working in the shoe factory that he began selling fabrics. He built a sewing machine and made clothes.

John Spence is a pioneer of the car

His desire to do something great through mechanics made him stop working as a clothing manufacturer. He focused on moving machines or propulsion machines that are set in motion with the help of human hand or footwork. He drove one of his vehicles from Linlithgow to Edinburgh, where he introduced his invention. This car drove on four tires and could carry three people. Two passengers had cranks to move the car.

In search of the perpetual motion

Like many inventors of this time, he wanted to create a machine for getting around. He announced the planned achievement of his goal between 1814 and 1818. Those news quickly spread throughout the country and many scientists came to his house to inspect the machine, which was designed to operate on the basis of magnetic force. Even Edinburgh Magazine wrote an article in May 1818 about the machine. He was even asked to come to Edinburgh with his machine so the whole world could see it. Phrenologists measured his head and concluded that he was a genius of mechanics. After a month of activity, the machine stopped. The inventor did not allow anyone to examine his machine and he lost all his fame.

From the perpetual motion to the velocipede

Spence invented more machines. He turned to the construction of velocipedes or machines that imitate horses and their riders. Spence traveled from Edinburgh to Glasgow with a front wheel linked to a wheel by a saddle-shaped pole. He moved forward by repulsing his feet on the ground. He was not very persistent with this project, but that changed. Downhill, he even managed to ride only one foot on the saddle. For the balance, he stretched a leg away from the body. By introducing his machine and practicing, he could earn some money.

Spence's portable house

John Spence built a portable wooden house in Fountainbridge, a suburb of the metropolis of Ecossaise. The house had three floors and could be moved to the owner's desire. Once it was moved 10k. He lived in this house for two years and one of his sons was born there. His wife opened a fruit business in it. People came from far away to admire this portable house. The construction cost him about 30 pounds. He sold it to a resident of Fife. To this day, it is one of the most notable houses in the UK.

The shoemaker retains his inventive spirit despite difficulties

After some difficulties, John Spence returned to his old work as a shoemaker in Edinburgh and stayed there. He focused on two new inventions: a mower that was, at least in theory, very resourceful. It should be able to mow an entire field at once. It was supposed to ride on wheels and be pulled by horses. The last invention he dedicated himself to was the invention of a roller skate for all grounds (compared to ice skating). He wanted to keep up with the velocipedes. One of his sons was very talented on these small skates and could drive up to 8 miles per hour (about 13k per hour). It is obvious that anyone with a petrol engine on asphalt roads can move forward quickly.

"Steep hills are difficult to climb, but with today's roads, there are no inclines that you can not overcome with great ease." Chambers's Edinburgh Journal - volume 7 - 1839

Unlike his contemporaries like Tyers, John Spence never reached the wealth. However, he was one of the people who always believed in their inventions and emulated their dreams, no matter what came in their way. A true force of nature that we want to honor 200 years later!


About John Spence (in English)

Released  on 01 January 2018 - Read 5865 times

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Passionné de roulettes devant l'éternel, le jour j'écume le bitume. Si je me crashe, si je tombe, ma peau s'arrache mais pas mon coeur de roller !

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