James Starley: Facts About the Victorian Inventor

Here are some facts about James Starley.

  • James Starley was born in the Sussex village, Albourne, in 1830.

  • When he was nine years old, he started to work on his father’s farm.
  • He invented ingenious ways of catching rats on the farm, using parts from an umbrella and willow branches.
  • When he was a teenager, he moved to Lewisham, London. He found work as a gardener, but made extra money by mending watches and inventing things to solve problems.
  • One of his early inventions was a device that allowed a duck to pass through a gap in a fence, but stopped rats from following it.
  • James Starley fixed his employer’s sewing machine and then improved its design, and this led to him getting a job with Josiah Turner, a partner of the men who had manufactured the sewing machine.
  • Around 1860, James Starley and Josiah Turner started their own company, the Coventry Sewing Machine Company.
  • By 1868, the company was producing bicycles. It soon became one of the key companies at the centre of the British bicycle industry.
  • With William Hardy, James Starley made a version of the penny-farthing.
  • The company’s most famous bike was the Ariel, made from all metal and released in 1870.
  • James Starley was constantly looking for ways to make his products better and more efficient. He invented the tangent spoke wheel, and differential gears (used in the manufacture of cars today) and he came up with ways to perfect the bicycle chain drive.
  • He married Jane Todd and they had a son called William Starley.
  • James Starley died in Coventry in 1881. He was 51 years old.
  • His son and nephew, John Kemp Starley, carried on making bicycles after James’ death. John Kemp Starley went on to make the Rover Safety Bicycle.
  • James Starley is sometimes known as “the father of the bicycle industry”.
  • Starley’s factory in Coventry is now home to the Museum of British Road Transport.
  • In a 1999 vote, James Starley was voted the third most important person in Coventry’s history.
  • There is a statue of James Starley in Coventry.

What next? Discover facts about some other famous Victorians.