The bicycle was invented in 1817 by Karl Drais. Originally the bicycle had many other names: velocipede, dandy horse, running machine, and Draisienne. It wasn't called a bicycle until 1869!
It was invented because of crop failure and widespread starvation which resulted in the slaughtering of horses. Another mode of transportation was needed. Drais' version of the bicycle, while it had 2 wheels, was still not what we'd think of a bicycle today. Drais' bicycle was propelled by the feet. (There were no pedals.)
It wasn't until 1863 that pedals were added to the front wheel allowing for the world's first fixed-gear, one-speed bicycle (or as it became commonly known, a boneshaker).
Historical Side Note: In 1894, Betty Bloomer's bloomers became popular which was one of many fashions that changed women's lives. The bicycle craze fueled revolutions in women's fashions even more. The days of restrictive corsets and bustles were numbered. Instead, fashions allowing for more movement were favored.
The invention of the bicycle changed lives, particularly those of women. The bicycle allowed women more independence, mobility, and freedom.
- David Mozer's "Chronology of the Growth of Bicycling & the Development of Bicycle Technology" on ibike.org
- Smithsonian National Museum of American History's "Women on the Move" on americanhistory.si.edu
For an excellent blog on Women, Fashion & Bicycles: Read Cycling History's Blog Post.