History of Cycle Rickshaw

February 2012
Rickshaws were first seen in Japan around 1868, at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. They soon became a popular mode of transportation since they were faster than the previously used palanquins (and human labor was considerably cheaper than the use of horses).

The identity of the inventor remains uncertain. Some American sources give the American blacksmith Albert Tolman, who is said to have invented the rickshaw around 1848 in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a missionary. Others claim that Jonathan Scobie (or Jonathan Goble), an American missionary to Japan, invented the rickshaw around 1869 to transport his invalid wife through the streets of Yokohama.Other scholars think it was Izumi Yosuke, a restaurateur in Tokyo in 1869. In New Jersey, the Burlington County Historical Society claims an 1867 invention by carriage maker James Birch, and exhibits a Birch rickshaw in its museum. None of these dates, however, are as early as the French source.

Still others say the rickshaw was designed by an American Baptist minister in 1888. This is undoubtedly incorrect, for an 1877 article by a New York Times correspondent in Tokyo stated that the "jin-riki-sha, or man-power carriage" was in current popular use, and was probably invented by an American in 1869 or 1870.
Japanese sources often credit Izumi Yosuke, Suzuki Tokujiro, and Takayama Kosuke, who are said to have invented rickshaws in 1868, inspired by the horse carriages that had been introduced to the streets of Tokyo shortly before. Starting in 1870, the Tokyo government issued a permission to build and sell rickshaws to these three men. The seal of one of these inventors was also required on every license to operate a rickshaw.
By 1872, some 40,000 rickshaws were operating in Tokyo. They soon became the chief form of public transportation in Japan. (Powerhouse Museum, 2005; The Jinrikisha story, 1996)

Around 1880, rickshaws appeared in India, first in Simla and then, 20 years later, in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Here they were initially used by Chinese traders to transport goods. In 1914, the Chinese applied for permission to use rickshaws to transport passengers. Soon after, rickshaws appeared in many big cities in Southeast Asia . Pulling a rickshaw was often the first job for peasants migrating to these cities.

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