The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Curious traveler
14 years of research results in first American globe
James Wilson spent the majority of his life traveling around New England to help others travel around the world.
Born in Londonderry, Wilson moved to and eventually set up his first globe-making business in Bradford, Vt. According to text on the history of Bradford, Wilson created his first globe in 1796. The globe was described as being “a large, solid wooden ball, covered with paper, with continents and countries drawn in with pen and ink.”
It would take Wilson 14 years after his first attempt to learn how to make a proper globe.
The book claims that Wilson had broken his problem down into three different categories: getting a stronger education about what the world looked like; developing his skill engraving on copper, the material he used for the globe; and printing maps on a spherical surface.
Wilson bought 18 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, walked from Bradford to Massachusetts and Connecticut to visit professional engravers to study the practice, and put a great strain on his family’s finances to perfect his craft.
According to the text, he eventually created the first American-made globe in 1809. The first recorded sale of the globe was dated Jan. 18, 1810, and soon after, Wilson’s business began to generate so much interest that he built a manufacturing plant with his three sons in Albany, N.Y. 

Died in the saddle
Steam-powered motorcycle man killed by his invention

By Hippo Staff

The tragic irony of the first-ever motorcycle, called the “Roper Steam Velocipede,” is that the creator, Francestown-based Sylvester H. Roper, died while he was in the middle of testing out his latest prototype. The Velocipede would be revolutionary in creating one of the most popular forms of transportation in modern times.

The original Roper Steam Velocipede, which was created in 1867, is in the Smithsonian Museum, but William Eggers, a builder of custom-made, limited-edition vehicles, has created a replica of the Velocipede.
“I used the same wheels as that time, wood-spoke wheels with a steel band on the outside,” he said. “There’s brass around the pistons in the back … and a little brake on the front wheel that’s controlled by the handlebars.”
The handlebars, he said, controlled the steam valve, which made the Velocipede move. Similar to a modern motorcycle, the handlebar twists forward to move and backward to slow down.
The steam boiler is located in between the seat and the back tire, with a small pressure gauge next to the handlebars. 
“The boiler is right between your legs,” he said. “So I always tell people, if there’s only a couple pounds, you have to build up more steam; if you have 5 to 10 pounds, then you can ride it; if you have 15 to 20 pounds, you better jump off and run like a bastard.”
Unfortunately, Eggers’ advice comes a little over 100 years too late. According to the The Inventive Yankee, a book that highlights several New England inventors, Roper took his latest model down to a bike track that ran along the Charles River. He entered the vehicle into a race with other bicyclists.
The book says that while it took a little while for the Velocipede to warm up, and for the other bicyclists to get their share of mocks and jeers in, the pressure from the boiler eventually grew to 180 pounds.
Roper lapped the other racers three times before spectators notice he was wobbling. Roper crashed, and when the spectators raced over to see if he was alright, the inventor was found dead of a heart attack. He was not wearing a helmet. The Boston Globe reported the next morning that he “died in the saddle.” 
As seen in the October 9, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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