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Dan Albone

1860 - 1906

Dan Albone - The Man, Family, Cyclist and Inventor
Dan Albone -  A Summary of his Life
Happy Birthday Dan
Biggleswade Down Under
Biggleswade History Society Inventory of Dan Albone Material

DAN ALBONE - THE MAN, FAMILY, CYCLIST AND INVENTOR

Dan Albone is best known internationally as the Inventor and Manufacturer of the World’s First practical and successful farm tractor the Ivel, Father of the British Tractor Industry. Also Inventor of Safety Cycle, Motorcycles and Motorcars named Ivel.

Dan Albone was born on the 12th September 1860 at the Ongley Arms inn in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, the youngest of eight children of Edith and Edward Albone. Dan’s interest in the invention of the bicycle started at the age of nine when his cousin Edward presented him with a Boneshaker bicycle. Dan soon became a very competent cyclist and won many local races and by the age of thirteen built a Penny Farthing bicycle all by himself. Dan’s mother noticed Dan’s great skill in making a bicycle and apprenticed him to a local firm of T. Course & Sons, Engineers & Millwrights of Hitchin Street, Biggleswade.

The growing interest in cycles caught Dan in its grip, and before he was out of his teens, he started building high Ordinary Bicycles on his own, using a shed behind the Ongley Arms, the Albone family home. The place soon became known as the Danneries and thanks to Dan’s charming personality and good nature many sales followed, and earned him the nickname of Smiling Dan.

In 1880 Dan named his cycle business The Ivel Cycle Works after the river which flows through Biggleswade. His endeavour was to produce a reliable, lightweight machine requiring the minimum of effort to ride and capable of considerable speed. Ivel Cycles quickly became favoured by well-known racing cyclists, despite the undoubted attractions held out by many well known factory makes. With Dan’s great interest in cycling, he started the Biggleswade and District Bicycle Club at his home, the Ongley Arms, in 1880.

Not only was Dan a mechanical wizard, he rapidly became known as a champion cyclist. He was awarded the championships of Bedfordshire on five occasions and used to ride many long distance rides of a hundred miles or more just for the fun of it, often on very bad roads. Dan became a cycling record breaker on his famous lye! Racing Bicycles, and many of Britain’s top racing cyclists rode to victory on Ivels in many big cycling events.

Dan’s Ongley Arms was the meeting place for racing and touring cyclists from all over the country and from France, Germany, Holland and from the United States and also many other countries. They chatted for many hours on end with the good humoured Dan, inspected his range of racing models, and benefited greatly from the abundance of cycling advice which Dan was always ready to bestow.

Dan was always ready, no matter at what hour of the day or night, to pace record or would-be record breakers and to find them refreshments at all hours at his home. No one had done more to assist in the progressions of cycling through its speed merchants of the road than Dan Albone.

Dan helped cyclists time out of number in his racing trips along the level roads of Bedfordshire. Dan Albone was one of those who go through life with a smile and he was never seen without one - he was the embodiment of amiability. Among Dan’s many notable achievements in cycle inventions were the Self Steering Safety Bicycle, Tandem safety Bicycle, Ladies Safety Bicycle, Ladies Tandem Safety Bicycle, Convertible Safety Bicycle, Large Chain-ring Gearing for Safety Bicycles, Child Carrier for Safety Bicycles, Postman’s Parcel Carrier for Safety Bicycles, and many other cycle inventions named Ivel. The town of Biggleswade became known as the Home of Modern Safety Bicycles and modern Cycle Road Racing and Touring.

With the invention of the internal combustion engine, Dan Albone designed and manufactured motorcars with many new improvements such as. Independent Spring Suspension, Axle Boxes, Electrical Ignition so that the driver does not have to get out of the car to start the engine and a great feature of the Ivel Motorcar was that all control levers are within easy reach of the driver, while the steering was remarkably steady as the wheels could not be deflected by obstacles on the road.

Three speed gearing was provided, also a reversing gear, with these advantages in addition to the fact that the Ivel Car was fitted with Dan Albone’s patent ball bearings. It was found that the Ivel Car worked equal to that performed by other cars fitted with bigger horsepower at very much less cost. The convenience of the driver was carefully studied, and noted that every part of the machinery could easily be reached so that all adjustments could be made with great ease.

Dan Albone was one of the first if not the very first to add internal combustion engines to bicycles and tricycles in Britain. Dan was the very first to introduce the motorcycle to ladies, the frame similar to his Ladies Safety Bicycle which he invented in 1886.

The Black Swan (later to become the Ivel Hotel) was leased to Dan Albone on 29th September 1892 from Charles Samuel Lindsell.  The lease included meadows of only 1½ acres to the west of the river.
[Source: Manor Court Book, BLARS)

Dan Albone’s greatest Motor Invention was the first practical and successful farm tractor The lye!. It was recorded that one May morning at 4 am in 1896 that Mrs. Albone was astonished to see Dan up and dressing and was told that he must go down to the Office and put a design down on paper for an agricultural motor which would be a great improvement on horses or traction engines.

By 1902 Dan completed his tractor invention after five years of research, and in February 1902 took out a patent, this being his greatest motor invention. Many tractor tests took place at farms near Biggleswade with great success. On the 12th of December 1902, Dan Albone started a Limited Company called “Ivel Agricultural Motors Ltd.” with offices in London at 45 Marlborough Street. The directors of the Company were Charles Jarrett, J. H. Hewitt, Selwyn Francis Edge, Lord Willoughby De Eresby. Dan Albone, and among the many supporters were The Duke of Bedford, Lord Scott Montague, and many other big land owners. 

One of the early tractor trials was held in July 1902 by the invitation of Dan Albone and the kindness of Mr. C. Capon of Hill Farm which lies between Biggleswade and Old Warden, who had placed a field of grass to be cut for hay at the disposal of Dan. A large company assembled to witness the trial of the new invention in taking round a mower. Amongst those present were Lord Alwyne Compton, MP, Mr. Edwards of Stamford, Mr. Capon and numerous farmers.

The time announced for the trial was 12.30 and shortly after the motor was travelling round and around at the rate of 8 miles an hour, drawing a mower, and the grass was falling clean cut to the general satisfaction of everyone. For over an hour and a half the proceedings were watched with keen interest and not only was there no hitch in the working of the new machine, but no one had a word to say in disparagement of either its performance or its manifest capabilities.

Everyone appeared to be more than satisfied and the general opinion expressed was that this invention met exactly the want which had been felt for so long in agricultural circles. When finally the tractor was brought to a standstill amid the company, Dan briefly introduced Lord Alwyne Compton who was heartily received. He said he thought all would agree on one thing, and that was that they ought to pay a tribute to Dan Albone for his enterprise in working out that agricultural motor, because he had not the slightest doubt it had given him a great deal of thought and trouble and put him to much expense. He thought all in Bedfordshire and outside it owed him this debt.

The machine was perfectly simple in its construction and therefore not likely to get out of order. It was well within its power so to speak and had not been strained anywhere by the work it had done, and as to whether it would be applicable to the farming industry, they could all form their own opinion, but he thought it would. Some of them remembered the tremendous fight against machinery because it was said it would take the bread out of poor people’s mouths, but that objection did not exist any more because they had a difficulty in getting men to do the work. As far as agricultural was concerned, they had enough of competition to keep them awake, and if they were not to lag behind and machinery would help them, it seemed to him they ought to use it.

Of course, the only question that remained for them was what would the cost be. If it came within their means, he did think it would be a vast gain for it would do the work of the horses on the farm and then go into the barn and then do other work as well. It was a great stride in advance and if it came within their means - he spoke honestly - it would be a great boon.

He thought Dan recognised that as much as anyone and if he could only turn it out cheap enough, they would be very foolish if they did not take advantage of it. There was no doubt it was a very practical thing, in conclusion, he thought and spoke for all when he said they owed Dan their hearty thanks what ever the future of the machine might be. Mr. L Briggs of Stamford spoke very highly of what he had seen and believed it would fill a long-felt want. He was so much taken with it that he was willing to purchase it at once if Dan would sell it, for it was a splendid thing and he always believed in having such things at once it they were good.

Early in 1903 inside the Ivel Cycle and Motor Works, Dan Albone and the works foreman, George Farr, were looking at an Ivel tractor which had been covered with some light metal against dust. Dan suddenly exclaimed ‘You know with a thicker cover that could be used by the Army, it would resist guns”. Dan set to work and put his design down on paper, after which he sent a special order to Cammell Laird & Company for 1/4 inch bullet proof steel shields. Dan enclosed one of his tractors in sheet metal with a door at the rear. Dan called his new machine the Ivel Armoured Car.

Dan Albone’s other inventions in connection with his tractor invention were Improvements in Automatic Feed oil Lubricators, which was patented on the 2nd May 1904, Improvements in or connected with attachments of Mowers, Reapers, Binders and other types of agricultural implements to tractors. Another of Dan Albone’s inventions was Improvement in the Means for Vaporising Heavy Hydrocarbons for use in Internal Combustion Engines. Dan’s last invention was an Auto Potato Planter with two operations in one.

Dan Albone’s tractor invention received 31 gold and silver medals at agricultural shows in many parts of Britain and abroad. On August 2nd, 1906, Dan Albone introduced the idea of harvesting at night with his Ivel tractor, working a Walter A. Wood 5 foot binder, cutting wheat. The light was provided by Costle acetylene motor lamps which were fitted to the motor as well as to each of the binders. Also Dan used his tractor to power a fire fighting machine which was made by Merryweather & Sons for fire and irrigation purposes.

On the morning of October 30th, 1906, Dan Albone went to the Works Office and while speaking on the telephone collapsed with a stroke and ten minutes later died. An inquest was held and a verdict of death by natural causes was given. Dan was only 46 years old and did more in his short life than many men did in their entire lives. Dan Albone did more than earn the title of Inventor of Safety Bicycles, Motorcycles, Motorcars, and the Inventor of the First Practical and Successful Farm Tractor The Ivel, Father of The British Tractor Industry and also other Cycle and Motor Inventions named Ivel.

DAN ALBONE - A SUMMARY OF HIS LIFE

1860    Born at the Ongley Arms, Shortmead Street, Biggleswade on 12th September to Edward and Edith Albone
1869    Receives his first bicycle, a Boneshaker, from his cousin Edward Albone
1872    Apprenticed to engineer and millwright Thomas Course and Son, Hitchin Street, Biggleswade     
1873    Designed and built his own high Ordinary bicycle
1880    Founded the Ivel Cycle Works in the Ongley Arms yard - Ivel Light Roadster and Ivel Racer
            Started the Biggleswade & District Bicycle Club at his home, the Ongley Arms
1881    Advertised Ivel Racing Bicycles for £13 10s
1882    Introduced the Ivel Tricycle - exhibited at the Biggleswade Gala
1884    In collaboration with Laurence Huber he built the Ivel Automatic Steering tricycle
1885    Won the 2-mile open cycle race at Oundle Lincolnshire and 1-mile open handicap at Crystal Palace, London
            Founder member of the North Road Cycling Club
1886    Produced the Ivel Safety self-steering cycle with ideas from John Kemp Starley, Hillman, Herbert & Cooper
            One of these cycles was used by George Pilkington Mills to achieve 24-hour a world record of 294.5 miles
            Invented the Tandem Safety and Ladies Modern Safety Bicycles
            Designed low friction ball-bearing axles; used in his production of a pony trap by Great Northern Railway
1887    Ball-bearing patent accepted
            Won the 1-mile and 2-mile open cycle race at Oundle, Lincolnshire
            Invented the Ladies Tandem Safety Bicycle
            Married Elizabeth Moulden in Rutland
1888    Won the International Tricycle scratch race at Sheveningen, Holland
            Convertible Safety Bicycle patent accepted
1889    Son Stanley Dan born
1891    Cycle Pump Clamp patent for Safety Bicycle accepted
            Invented the Postman's Parcel Carrier for Safety Bicycles
1892    Child Carrier patent for Safety Bicycle accepted
1893    Ivel Cycle Works went into voluntary liquidation; downturn in economy put many others out of business
1894    Invented Large Chain-ring Gearing
1896    Axle Box patent for Road Vehicle Wheels accepted
1897    Invented independent suspension for motor cars
1898    Produced his prototype car
1899    Sold a car to Duke of Bedford
1900    Exhibited his car in London
            Daughter Alwyne Patricia Edwards born
1901    Designed and produced the Ivel Motor Bicycle, including the first designed for ladies
            Completed the initial design of the Ivel Agricultural Motor
1902    Filed his patent for the Ivel Agricultural Motor (accepted 1903), trials were at Hill Farm near Old Warden
1903    Formed Ivel Agricultural Motors Limited
            Ivel Agricultural Motor won silver medal at the Royal Agricultural Show - price of the machine was £300
            Demonstrates an armoured car using the Ivel Agricultural Motor with plate from Cammell Laird
1905    Patent accepted for Improvements related to connection of implements to tractors
            Patent for Improvements in Automatic Oil Feed Lubricators accepted
            Patent for Improvements in Means for Vaporising Heavy Hydrocarbons accepted
1906    Invented the Ivel Potato Planter
            Dan died at work on October 30th and was buried in Biggleswade cemetery November 2nd
            His obituary is published in at least 48 local and national newspapers and journals

Note that only a small selection of his cycling prizes (180) and medal achievements have been shown.
An Ivel Ladies cycle may be seen in the Shuttleworth collection at Old Warden; two Ivel cycles are owned locally.
An Ivel Tractor is on view at the Beamish Museum in County Durham, another is held in a Science Museum store.

Here are another two articles about Dan Albone:

Happy Birthday
Biggleswade Down Under

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

The first practical lightweight farm tractor was invented and made in Bedfordshire over 100 years ago. Number 131 still in working order celebrated its 100th birthday at Biggleswade on 22nd June 2003

Dan Albone a native of Biggleswade opened The Ivel Works in Shortmead Street at the age of 18, became an international champion cyclist and invented numerous cycles including the first self-steering safety-racing bicycle. In 1897 in his works behind the Ivel Hotel he started to manufacture his own motorcycles and motorcars.

Dan’s world famous invention was the first practical farm tractor in 1902. The improved Ivel Agricultural Motor introduced in 1903 was exported all over the world. At least seven are now known to exist; two in Australia, one each in New Zealand, Sweden, and Zimbabwe, plus two in England. The science museum in Kensington has an Ivel that was recently exhibited in Japan.

Number 131 which left the works in 1903 was used as a demonstration machine until sold to Mr Tinniswood at Rosebank farm, Dalston, Northumberland in 1905.  On 7th April 1979 Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother opened The Hunday National Tractor & Farm Museum in Northumberland. The owner John Moffitt CBE had purchased Ivel number 131 in 1971 and it was the pride of his collection. Although it was still in working order, John realised the importance of this tractor and had it professionally rebuilt to a high standard in 1994. On 7th May 2002 John took the Ivel on a 10-mile road test after changing the sprocket to increase the speed from 3mph to 5.2mph.

On Saturday 21st June 2003 the Ivel returned to Biggleswade visiting the historic Market Square and Sainsbury’s Store and the Shuttleworth Museum at Old Warden. In the evening there was a reception in the Russell Hall at Shuttleworth College followed by a Charity Celebration Dinner.

Then on Sunday 22nd June 2003 at Biggleswade, a Heritage Plaque was unveiled opposite the site of the Ivel Works and a wreath placed on Dan Albone’s grave at Drove Road Cemetery. Celebrations on the Market Square included a Farmers Market and various Youth Events.

After leaving Biggleswade the Ivel was driven 100 miles to the Royal Show at Stoneleigh stopping each day at various locations en route including  Old Warden Park, Silsoe Agricultural Research Centre, Woburn Abbey, Silverstone Race Circuit, Upper Boddington and Lemington Spa. After a journey without incident, it arrived at the Royal Show on Sunday 29th June when John Moffitt received a hero’s welcome. During the week the Ivel was the subject of a main ring presentation. The Ivel is booked for shows right up to 23rd November at Skipton near Leeds.

People of Biggleswade and district should be proud to have produced the world’s first small, versatile, internal combustion agricultural motor (tractor) thereby changing the face of farming for the past 100 years.

There was a serious objective behind the events to raise £100,000 for the hospices during 2003. Over £85,000 had been raised by the end of August so the target was in sight.

Ken Page
31st August 2003

BIGGLESWADE DOWN UNDER

On a recent visit to Australia well known farmers from Upper Caldecote, Peter & Josie Maudlin caught up with the past when they inspected the vintage tractor collection of Norm & Brian McKenzie of Cumnock in New South Wales. The collection consists of over forty beautifully restored working tractors and engines from Australia’s agricultural past. The one they came to see was one of Dan Albone’s early model “Ivel” tractors. Biggleswade has a lot to be proud of in the Dan’s engineering skills and his entrepreneurial flare in exporting the “Ivel” to many countries around the world.

A number of “Ivel” model tractors were exported to Australia in the early 1900’s packed in wooden cases at the factory in Biggleswade before shipping overseas.

Probably the first internal combustion engine tractor in the world the “Ivel“ was accepted and performed well. This tractor was significant in changing the face of agriculture around the world.  Norm & Brian McKenzie have restored “Ivel” 269 to working condition.

The old Bedfordshire engineered tractor performed well for one of its countrymen.  Peter Maudlin can be seen here putting the tractor through its paces. “Ivel” 269 is an early model of its type with no extended sump, which came in later models.

Ivel Tractor in Australia
Click for full sized image

From Nita Best
June 2005

BIGGLESWADE HISTORY SOCIETY DAN ALBONE INVENTORY

The Society holds a considerable amount of material related to Dan Albone including artifacts, images, newspaper cuttings, catalogues and books with references.  The majority of the printed material has been donated by Lee Irvine whose late wife was a great niece of Dan's.  The latest donations made by Lee are documented two inventories. CLICK 1  and CLICK 2 (PDF files)