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B1259 Bicycle, 'Kangaroo', dwarf safety type, No. 26838, rubber / nickel / steel, made by Hillman, Herbert & Cooper, Premier Bicycle Works, Coventry, England, 1884-1887. Click to enlarge.

Hillman, Herbert & Cooper’s ‘Kangaroo’ dwarf bicycle, 1884-1887

The "Kangaroo" dwarf safety bicycle was made by Hillman, Herbert & Cooper, of the Premier Bicycle Co., Coventry, England, between 1884 and 1887. Its significance lies in the fact that it was one of many attempts in the transitional period between the Ordinary or "penny farthing" bicycle and the development of the safety bicycle. Cycling literature refers to the Kangaroo as both a dwarf ordinary and a dwarf safety.

The Kangaroo was a successful attempt to make the ordinary bicycle design more manageable by fitting wheels of a more nearly equal size and, more importantly, incorporating a two-chain drive, albeit of a short length, on the front driving wheel. Consequently, with every revolution of the crank the driving wheel could travel further and faster than an Ordinary bicycle.

The Kangaroo was also safer and easier to mount and dismount than the tall-wheeled ordinary. Contemporary advertisements described the Kangaroo as "Safer than a Tricycle" and "Faster than a Bicycle." The Kangaroo's popularity was increased by the number of record-breaking times and distances it achieved, including the 100 mile record in 1884.

This bicycle is a rare example of the original "Kangaroo" model made by Hillman, Herbert & Cooper, which took the world of cycling by storm in 1884 when it was released. Apparently every manufacturer at the time had a go at building one, but the design was quickly superseded by the rear chain safety bicycle devised by Rover in 1885.

The Hillman, Herbert & Cooper firm used a kangaroo or "Kangar" as its registered trade mark, and its use has nothing to do with Australian manufacturing.

Beeley, Serena. "A History of Bicycles", Wellfleet Books, New Jersey, USA, 1992.

Information supplied by Paul & Charlie Farren

Margaret Simpson, Assistant Curator, Science & Industry, August 2008


Object No.


Object Statement

Bicycle, 'Kangaroo', dwarf safety type, No. 26838, rubber / nickel / steel, made by Hillman, Herbert & Cooper, Premier Bicycle Works, Coventry, England, 1884-1887

Physical Description

Bicycle, 'Kangaroo', dwarf safety type, No. 26838, rubber / nickel / steel, made by Hillman, Herbert & Cooper, Premier Bicycle Works, Coventry, England, 1884-1887

A bicycle featuring a front wheel of thirty-six inches in diameter with a white solid rubber tyre, nickel-plated steel rim with spokes threaded and screwed into the hub, which is cast with sprockets. It has a rear wheel of twenty inches in diameter which also has a black solid rubber tyre and a steel rim with a cast nickel-plated hub on ball bearings with a centre axle. The frame is steel tubing with forks for the rear wheel with nickel-plated steel rim with spokes and pedals of white rubber.

Thirteen missing spokes were replaced by the Museum in 1980. Some of the existing spokes appear to have been replaced earlier and are not the original ones. The bicycle is driven from the front wheel. The hub is connected by two chains, one each side of the front wheel, to a lower set of cogged wheels to which the pedals are attached. There are two small holes above the front wheel bearings, these are for foot supports so that riders could lift their feet off the pedals when travelling downhill.

In many respects the bicycle resembles an ordinary or penny farthing bicycle, with the same type of tubular frame, solid rubber white-coloured tyres and a rear mounting step.

The bicycle was originally painted black with nickel-plated hubs, bearings, cranks and various fastenings. There is evidence of green paint on the pedals but on no other parts.

Missing parts include the seat, chain guards, foot rests, handle bars, brake assembly and front wheel bearing race and balls.


Inside the left crank is the number: '26838', and the frame itself is also numbered '26838'. The wording "Hillman's / Patent / A25[?]27" is on the right bearing. The tyre has the name "Palmer" stamped into it.



1170 mm


575 mm



The "Kangaroo" bicycle was introduced by its manufacturers, Hillman, Herbert & Cooper, of Coventry, England, at the Stanley Show, in the Floral Hall at Covent Garden in London in February 1884. The firm had been established in 1876 with three partners, William Hillman, William Henry Herbert and George Beverley Cooper. Hillman had previously been a foreman at the Coventry Sewing Machine company and had practical experience.

The "Cyclists' Touring Club Gazette" of November 1884 described the Kangaroo in its editorial as "a sound and reliable little mount, likely to win its way more and more into popular favour, particularly among those who value their necks too highly to risk them upon the Ordinary bicycle". The "Cyclists'" magazine went on to note that a cycling game called the Kangaroo Hunt, similar to a game of hare and hounds by bicycle, saw a rider on a Kangaroo have a four minute head start. Kangaroo safety bicycle advertising noted that "over 100 of these machines [are] selling weekly".

Beeley, Serena. "A History of Bicycles", Wellfleet Books, New Jersey, USA, 1992.



The bicycle was purchased by the Museum in 1954. It was one of nine bicycles and tricycles from the collection of Richard G.J. Nash of Weybridge, Surrey, England. Richard Grainger Jeune Nash (1910-1966) was born in Ireland but grew up in Weybridge, Surrey. During the 1920s he became an automobile engineer at the famous Brooklands racetrack nearby. Brooklands was the world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit and opened in 1907. It was also the venue for early bicycle racing and soon attracted pioneering aviation manufacturing companies as well. In 1932 Nash established a hill climb record in his Frazer Nash, "The Terror", up Brooklands Test Hill. During the 1930s he was actively building up a collection of old aircraft, automobiles and bicycles which was known as the International Horseless Carriage Corporation. In 1939 motor racing ceased at Brooklands and during the Second World War the site was taken over for military aircraft production. The collection was even bombed during 1940.

In 1952 Nash offered to sell his entire collection of some 23 veteran cars, 46 pre-1900 bicycles and seven pre-1918 aircraft to the Museum for the "interest and education of future generation(s)" of "the Empire or Commonwealth". At that time his address was noted as The Beeches, Hangar Hill, Weybridge, Surrey. Nash had family members in Australia and apparently felt his collection would be of value to show the history of technology in the colonies. Because of the prohibitive transport costs from England to Australia, the Museum was only in a position to purchase 9 bicycles from the Nash collection. The Museum's Director, A.R. Penfold, inspected the bicycles in a hangar/store at Brooklands while visiting England in 1953. The bicycles were subsequently shipped to Australia on board the "SS Orion". Unfortunately, the bicycles came with no provenance. Much of the remainder of the Nash collection appears to have been dispersed to museums throughout Britain.

After the war civilian aviation continued at Brooklands with several Concordes later being built on the site. After the British Aerospace factory closed in 1986 the Brooklands Museum Trust was formed and a museum of the site opened in 1991.

In 1980 this bicycle (of the original nine bought) was conserved and partly restored by the Museum. It was disassembled and degreased, the peeling paint was removed, and 13 spokes were replaced in the front wheel using 3 mm rods.


Credit Line

Purchased 1954

Acquisition Date

15 August 1954

Cite this Object


Hillman, Herbert & Cooper's 'Kangaroo' dwarf bicycle, 1884-1887 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 November 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Hillman, Herbert & Cooper's 'Kangaroo' dwarf bicycle, 1884-1887 |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=25 November 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.