Roper Steam Velocipede, about 1869

Sylvester Roper, a machinist and inventor in Massachusetts, built this steam velocipede and demonstrated it at fairs and circuses. It is believed to be the oldest existing American motorcycle. With its forged iron frame and wooden wheels, it resembles a velocipede, a popular bicycle of the late 1860s. The saddle served as a water tank for the boiler, which was heated by a firebox that burned charcoal. Twisting the handlebar controlled the throttle and brakes. Roper built several other steam vehicles, including another motorcycle in 1895, but he died just before the motor vehicle manufacturing industry got underway.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1869
Roper, Sylvester H.
overall: 3 15/16 ft x 2 1/8 ft x 6 9/16 ft; 1.1936 m x .64008 m x 2.0065 m
place made
United States: Massachusetts
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Road Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of John H. Bacon

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.