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The National Railway Museum has a very odd-looking device buried in its collections: a working model of a gyrostatic monorail car invented by Louis Brennan in 1907.

I don’t feel able or qualified to explain the physics of gyrostats here. Suffice to say, Brennan’s vehicle ran on a single rail, stabilized by ingeniously-designed spinning fly-wheels so that it stayed upright even when fully loaded.

Brennan gyroscopic monorail car (National Railway Museum)
Brennan gyroscopic monorail car (National Railway Museum)

Ingenious inventions like the gyrocar were all the rage in Edwardian Britain. On my shelves at home is a copy of ‘Twentieth Century Inventions’, written by Charles Gibson in 1913. Gibson reports on the public demonstrations of Brennan’s full-sized car, pictured above:

“While it looked strange to see a heavy car running round a circular track on a single rail, and negotiating the curves as comfortably as a cyclist would, it was more surprising to see the loaded car stop and yet remain upright, even when its forty passengers all crowded to one side of the car.”

But human nature was the problem, not the technology itself. “One can imagine a very cheap form of suspension bridge if the gyro-car were to come into practical use, but despite the inventor’s actual demonstration with a passenger, it might be difficult to persuade the public to cross a river or a deep ravine with a suspended rope as the sole track.” Here’s the demo. The passenger is Brennan’s daughter:

Brennan gyroscopic car prototype (National Railway Museum)
Brennan gyroscopic car prototype (National Railway Museum)

I must say it looks a pretty cool way to travel! If you want to see this very model, head for the Warehouse in the National Railway Museum this half-term. Every day between now and Sunday, they’re showing it off with an accompanying talk at noon and 2pm. I don’t think they’ll be calling out for brave volunteers to give it a go, but you never know…

2 comments on “Louis Brennan's Gyro-car

  1. Sir

    As a child I had a set of Childrens Encyclopedias. This Brennan Gyroscopic Locomotive was covered in some detail, as was the Lartigue System. Despite constant searching I have never found theses books.


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