The Autoped Was the World's First Scooter

Public Domain. The Retronaut

The photo on the Retronaut was captioned:

Lady Florence Norman, a suffragette, on her motor-scooter in 1916, travelling to work at offices in London where she was a supervisor. The scooter was a birthday present from her husband, the journalist and Liberal politician Sir Henry Norman.

Having missed this when it did the rounds in October, I wondered if this was an electric scooter, seeing that box at Lady Florence's feet. In fact, it is a gasoline powered scooter imported from America, known as the Autoped. The box is indeed a battery, but for a later version with an electric coil and better lights. According to Oldbike, it was the world's first scooter.

Remembering the Autoped

Autoped scooter closeup
This fascinating machine represents the world’s first model of scooter. It was the only motorcycle to be built in New York City. Though adopted by the U.S. Post Office and other services – as well as fashion-conscious women in Europe and America – it was also used by New York gang members for easy getaways – they could motor down narrow alleys to escape police in cars behind them.

How it works

Black and white side view of an autoped scooter
Smithsonian / Public Domain

The Smithsonian has one, and doesn't mention the gangs of New York.

The engine is geared to the wheel by means of a disk clutch. The flywheel, on the right side of the front wheel, contains a 6-volt lighting generator that originally furnished current for lighting and ignition, but the system later was altered by the addition of an ignition coil and four dry-cell batteries. The ignition switch is mounted on the right side of the frame, and the gasoline tank is above the front fender.
All control of the vehicle is through the steering column. Turning the column steers the machine in the conventional manner; pushing it forward engages the clutch; and pulling it back operates the internal, expanding brake on the front wheel. Turning the left grip operates the throttle, and turning the right grip operates the compression release through a wire controlling the opening and closing of the intake valve. A hand Klaxon is mounted on the left grip.
Folded down side view of an autoped scooter
Smithsonian / Public Domain

It was a folder, too.


Georges Léonnec./Public Domain

It was evidently very popular with women of the day. More at the Smithsonian.