Problem: How to construct a vehicle with which one can transport oneself where one likes, without a horse

As part of an ongoing scholarly discussion, a colleague sent me the following image:

Now, the image, which depicts a vintage Frejus, does not at first appear to have a rare book or manuscript connection; however, RBML’s collections have great diversity and can provide scholarly content across many disciplines–here’s how.  If we consider Jacques Ozanam’s (1640-1717) Recreations mathematiques et physiques, qui contiennent plusieurs problêmes d’arithmetique, de geometrie, d’optique, de gnomonique, de cosmographie, de mecanique, de pyrotechnie, & de physique (Paris, 1694–RBML call no.: SMITH 511.9 1694 Oz1), we can find the starting point for my colleague’s FrejusRecreations mathematiques et physiques sets out to solve various mathematical problems, among them,

how to "construire un carosse, dans lequel on se puisse conduire soy-même là où l’on voudra, sans aucuns Chevaux"–or, roughly translated, How to construct a carriage with which one can transport oneself where one likes, without out a horse.

Here is Ozanam’s solution:

To this blogger’s eye, I see the foundations of the bicycle (full disclosure, I am far from the first person to make this connection, see especially David Herlihy’s Bicycle , page 15-6 (Yale UP, 2006).  But note the pedal powered drive train and the turning cogs, which closely resemble the chain rings on modern bicycles.

RBML holds several editions of Ozanam’s work as part of the David Eugene Smith Collection on the history of mathematics.  Here’s the title page and frontispiece of the 1696 edition (which bears Smith’s ex libris stamp in the upper right corner):

Here the plate has found its way to the front of the book, a sign of its perceived importance.  Ozanam’s vehicle or carosse, doesn’t look much like my colleague’s Frejus, but it does reach back to the bicycle’s roots, and emphasizes just how much ground RBML’s collections can cover.

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