This Vehicle Was One Step From Revolutionized Driving in the 1930s

This Vehicle Was One Step From Revolutionized Driving in the 1930s

Stephanie Schoppert - February 16, 2017

It was nothing short of amazing and turned heads wherever it went. Years later people would talk about the monstrous wheel they had seen being driven by a man on the beach, wondering if they had just imagined the sight. But it was no figment of the imagination. The Dynasphere had a few brief moments in the sun when people from all over came to get a look at it.

Popular Science put in on their cover, video clips were made of the wheel in motion, and photos of it were taken in excess. But despite the initial excitement and the several prototypes that were made, the Dynasphere never lasted. The reason why is probably the reason the monowheel itself has never been more than a novelty act.

Dr. J.H. Purves became inspired one day by a sketch done by Leonardo DaVinci. It was enough to make him think that developing a vehicle with only one wheel, in which the driver rode inside the wheel, was possible. Working with his son, he made a few different prototypes, and in 1930 he patented his design. The design was ten feet tall and featured an iron latticework wheel. The driver sat on a roller-mounted carriage in the center of the wheel and the motor was placed next to the seat. The 2.5 horsepower motor powered the inner ring of the Dynasphere and propelled the vehicle forward.

This Vehicle Was One Step From Revolutionized Driving in the 1930s
The Dynasphere parked on the side of the road.
BBC News

The Dynasphere also had the nickname “Jumbo” and for good reason. Not only was it ten feet tall, but it weighed 1,000 pounds. Despite its size and the meager 2.5 horsepower engine, the Dynasphere was reported to reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. At the time, any vehicle reaching 30 miles per hour was considered to be high speed. There have been doubts as to whether or not the Dynasphere really did reach such high speeds, and some have suggested an engine that small would only be able to propel the Dynasphere forward at about 20 miles an hour.

Regardless of the actual speed, the Dynasphere was something to behold. According to Dr. J.H. Purves, it was the high-speed vehicle of the future and it reduced locomotion to its simplest form and that gave him economy of power. The doctor took his early models out on the road and would display them on the beach for anyone that wanted to see them. Initially, he had two models, a larger wheel which ran on gas, and a smaller wheel which ran on electricity. Both of the wheels were intriguing but they left something to be desired in the steering. In order to turn the wheel, the driver had to lean in the direction he wanted to turn, often having to lean well outside the wheel to make a sharper turn.

But J.H. Purves had a plan to fix the steering, and when he developed a Dynasphere that did not require the driver to lean and could seat more than one passenger, he really believed that he had created a vehicle that would change everything.

This Vehicle Was One Step From Revolutionized Driving in the 1930s
Dynasphere training. BBC

Dr. J.H. Purves had a plan that would make the steering of the Dynasphere more like the steering on a car. The way to do this was to have the steering wheel shift the cabin of the Dynasphere to one side or the other. This in a way automated the “leaning” motion that was needed to turn the wheel prior to the new model. This model also got plenty of attention and was even featured on video as eager spectators watched the new and improved Dynasphere in action.

But the Dyansphere still had problems, namely that even with the improvements it was still nearly impossible to steer. Turning the wheel was no easy task, taking a decent amount of force to move the weighty cabin from one side to the other. This meant that turning was not as smooth or as fast as it would be in a car. It took several hard turns to activate the movement and that was not at all practical at higher speeds, which defeated the purpose of having a high-speed car if it was impossible to steer at high speeds.

That was a problem that might have been solved with a smoother operation and better gears. Even with improvements, the Dynasphere was not likely to be easier to steer than a car. But there was another problem with the Dynasphere that was an even bigger problem than the difficulty with the steering and that was braking. The Dynasphere had brakes and with enough pressure, it would stop when you wanted it to, the problem was that sometimes the cabin of the vehicle would not. This meant that sometimes upon trying to stop, the person riding the Dynasphere would become something of a human hamster spinning around inside the wheel until the momentum was spent.

So, while the idea was interesting and people were excited about it, it was hard to steer and hard to break and sometimes you went for a spin inside the wheel. Apparently, Dr. J.H. Purves and his son never figured out a solution to these problems because the Dynasphere disappeared into history not long after 1932.