Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Henry Ford's First Car Was Basically a Double Bicycle

Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Early in the morning on June 4, 1896, Henry Ford test-drove his Quadricycle for the first time. It was his first automobile, and he had built it in the shed behind his Detroit home. When he tried to move the Quadricycle out of the building, Ford realized the shed doors weren't wide enough to get the thing out. So he wielded an axe, knocking down a brick wall to enlarge the opening. That gave him room to begin his test drive.

At the time, Ford was Chief Engineer for Edison Illuminating Company, responsible for keeping electrical service running in Detroit. Around the edges of his work schedule, Ford found time to noodle on his Quadricycle. Ford was fascinated by the idea of ethanol-powered engines and lightweight motorized vehicles—this was an era when every car was a one-off, built to individual specifications. He figured that with enough fiddling, he could make a horseless carriage that really worked.

The Quadricycle was essentially a four-wheeled bicycle with an ethanol engine attached to the frame. The engine was a two-cylinder design producing four horsepower, powering the rear wheels. It had two gears: first was about 10mph, second was about 20mph. The whole assembled vehicle weighed 500 pounds. Ford built the engine—the key component—with friends at his kitchen table, based on a design he'd seen in a magazine.

The test drive went well, and the Quadricycle reached 20 miles per hour. It had no brakes, and its steering was awful, but with a compatriot riding ahead in a bicycle to clear the way, things went mostly according to plan. (They stopped by the Edison plant to replace a few parts that came loose.)

The Quadricycle was a success, and led Ford to continue pursuing his interest in gasoline-powered horseless carriages. He would produce the first Ford Model A in 1903.

Here's a snippet of old film showing the Quadricycle in action:

If you'd like a modern perspective on the Quadricycle, check out this Modern Driver test drive.

Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


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