Because the Year Without a Summer (1816) was a tough year to grow crops, the oats used to feed horses were in short supply and were very expensive. The high price of oats may have been one of the factors that prompted Karl Drais to invent a mode of transportation that did not require a horse. His invention: the bicycle. Unlike bicycles today, Drais' version did not have peddles.
Illustration from French patent

The Year Without a Summer

Odd things happened during the summer of 1816. Snow fell in New England during midsummer. Gloomy cold rains were continual in Europe. The weather didn’t seem like summer weather at all. It was cold and stormy and dark. Consequently, 1816 became known in the Northern Hemisphere as “The Year Without a Summer.”

The reason for the lack of summer weather in Europe and North America could be found on the other side of the planet - at Indonesia’s Mount Tambora.

On April 5, 1815, Mount Tambora, a volcano, started to rumble with activity. Over the following four months the volcano exploded - the largest volcanic explosion in recorded history. Many people close to the volcano lost their lives in the event. Mount Tambora ejected so much ash and aerosols into the atmosphere that the sky darkened and the Sun was blocked from view. These particles spread through the atmosphere over the following months and had a worldwide effect on climate. Earth’s average global temperature dropped three degrees Celsius. The effect was temporary. Eventually, ash and aerosols released by the volcano fell out of the atmosphere, allowing the sunshine through.

The year without a summer had many impacts in Europe and North America. Frost killed many crops. The lack of sunshine caused others to fail. This increased the price of food. The price of oats increased making it more expensive for people to feed their horses. Horses were the main method of transportation, so with expensive oats, the cost of travel increased. This may have been one of the factors that inspired a German man named Karl Drais to invent a way to get around without a horse: the bicycle.

The gloomy summer weather also inspired writers. During that summer-less summer, Mary Shelley, her husband poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and poet Lord Byron were on vacation at Lake Geneva. While trapped indoors for days by constant rain and gloomy skies, the writers described the bleak, dark environment of the time in their own ways. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, a horror novel set in an often stormy environment. Lord Byron wrote the poem Darkness, which begins, “I had a dream, which was not all a dream. The bright sun was extinguish’d.”

Last modified July 18, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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