History of previous wheels devices
Monowheel / Motorwheel
(One wheel engine patented in 1869)
Several types of wheel devices were designed around 1869. The first motorized Monowheel patent was registered in the USA by Bergner. Other inventors also seem to have taken part in creating the apparatus. Apparently the wheel was a hit in Rome in 1927 and Paris in 1932. In the 30ies a rally was organized from Millan to Rome and won by David Cislaghi. Participants of the rally sought to determine whether the one wheel vehicle was safer then the two-wheeled vehicle, which was designed in a structure comparable to the one of the Rhönrad.
(Choreographed by Doris Humphrey circa 1923)
In her day Doris Humphrey was known as a groundbreaker in the modern dance community. Born and raised in Chicago, she enrolled in the Denishawn School in Los Angeles in 1917. She was encouraged to choreograph various pieces and among others, she created “Scherzo Waltz » in which she incorporated a large wheel. Interestingly she developed her choreography using techniques that use weight transfers, balancing possibilities as well as fall and recovery rhythms on which today’s Cyr Wheel technique is based.
(Sports apparatus patented in 1925 in Germany by Otto Feick)
Also known as the German Wheel, the Rhönrad is a double wheel similar to a hamster’s wheel human-size. Otto Feick, son of a blacksmith and railroad worker from the Rhön region in Germany, drew inspiration from a childhood experience to invent the apparatus. Indeed, his grandfather let him roll down a hill in an iron-rimmed barrel of sorts. In 1925, he patented his invention, called a Rhönrad, and as the owner of a metal works factory, he was able to build his wheels. He also developed three other types of wheels: the E-Rad whose double wheels were set closer, the Dreia designed for 3 people and the Globus for 5 people. However, the all-purpose Rhönrad wheel is the only one to have stood the test of time. In the following years, some 20,000 wheels were built! Demand was so great that Feick had to work with a subcontractor to manufacture them. In 1927, Dr. Willi Schütz wrote a detailed illustrated handbook on the use and vocabulary of the Rhönrad. Feick was invited to present his invention in London in 1927 and then in New York City two years later.
The Rhönrad was becoming increasingly popular. In Würzburg, Alert Weimer set up an association of Rhönrad enthusiasts that became one of the leading training centres in Germany. Feick brought together members of the railroad sports association where he worked and those of the Würzburg sports center to promote the new sport. The enthusiasts organized competitions and set up training centers in several German cities. Berlin became a leading centre for the sport. The 10th anniversary of the invention of the apparatus would be a turning point in the development of the Rhönrad and the celebrations were held at Berlin’s Wintergarten in 1935. The following year some 120 experienced practitioners of the sport took part in a Rhönrad demonstration during the Berlin Olympic Games. At the time, the wheel was considered a sport equipment for schools and served occasionally as an entertainment attraction. The new sport would also be taken up for training purposes by the military, marines, police officers, firefighters and pilots. Pilots were especially interested in training with this piece of equipment because it incorporated exercises needed to develop skills in their line of work. They needed to develop their piloting skills, which included spatial orientation.
World War 2 put an end to the development of the sport. After the war, the old wheel enthusiasts were brought together again. The German Democratic Republic supported the revitalization efforts surrounding the Rhönrad in the hopes of prevailing over the West. The damaged wheels were repaired and training resumed in Berlin and Würzburg. Competitions were organized and the Rhönrad was recognized by the national gymnastics federation (Deutcher Turner-Bund). The first championship took place in Hanover in 1960. Unfortunately Feick died in 1959 and did not see his sport official recognized.
The sport kept spreading abroad. Its popularity was increasing, especially with the participation of the Rhönrad athletes at the Gymnaestrada festivals in Switzerland in 1982 and Denmark in 1987. In 1990 the first European Cup in wheel gymnastics was held in Taunusstein, Germany and was organized by the FIRR (international Rhönrad federation), predecessor of the IRV (international wheel sports federation). Since, a dozen meets have been held throughout the world. In 1996, the German wheel begins to make a mark in the circus world as part of Cirque du Soleil’s production of Quidam and is being though in many circus school around the world. In 2000, a number of wheel athletes and enthusiasts came together to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the invention and pay tribute to its inventor Otto Feick. Dr. Jörd Winkler, 13 times Rhönrad medalist in Germany and now works as a psychomobility therapist, trainer and collector, has contributed significantly to documenting the history of the Rhönrad.
(Apparatus invented circa 1930 by Adalbert von Rekowski, Germany)
Developed by Rhönrad athletes, the Einrefen was a single steel wheel with hands and footholds. Its movement vocabulary was similar to that of the Rhönrad: side roll, spiral and coin spin. Unlike today’s Cyr Wheel, there was yet no waltz move. No patent was ever registered for the Einrefen, but the cover page of Die Woche im Bild newspaper in March 1951 attributes the invention of the apparatus to Rekowski. Although the sport did not spread as widely as the Rhönrad, several pictures bear witness to its invention in the last century. The first demonstration of the Einrefen took place during the Rhönrad championship in 1960 in Hanover. According to Dr. Jörg Winkler, wheel sport enthusiast and Rhönrad history specialist, the Einrefen was forgotten after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
(Sports derived from the Cyr Wheel and introduced to sport wheel practice in 2011. Was named Mono Wheel in 2013 by the IRV "International Rhönradturnen
The popularity of the Cyr Wheel prompted Rhönrad enthusiasts to remember Adalbert von Rekowski’s Einrefen. A Cyr Wheel competition was organized by the USA Wheel Gymnastics Federation for the world wheel gymnastics championship in Chicago in July 2013. The IRV decided to name the sport Mono Wheel. The rules of the competition were based on the Cyr Wheel “Battle” held in Arnsberg in 2011. Several Cyr Wheel artists trained in Quebec Canada had been invited. Incidentally, the competition rules were developed with a Quebec coach who had benefited from Daniel Cyr’s instruction as well as the wheels he had built.
Opinions vary on this new sport. Some believe that an artistic discipline should express itself freely and not be encumbered by codes so that creativity and artistic development be encouraged. Others believe that the popularity of the apparatus is due to Daniel Cyr and that the Cyr Wheel should keep its original name.
Our history over the years
Interestingly various inventions come up in successive eras: Doris Humphrey with her Scherzo Waltz in 1923, Otto Feick’s Rhönrad in 1925, Daniel Cyr’s Cyr Wheel in 1998 and the IRV’s Mono Wheel in 2013. All these inventions emerged in distinct times, each bearing witness to our history. The Rhönrad survived the war and found its place in the sports world so that competitors could face their opponents in a peaceful context. As for the Cyr Wheel, it became popular in the context of the development of contemporary circus arts, the spread of internet and Youtube. As a sport, the Mono Wheel stems from our need for feats and success, so typical in recent times.
We are always looking for additional information and visual material to enrich this article. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have some knowledge on the subject. We are especially interested to learn more about the hoop dance of Doris Humphrey.
- «Das Rhönrad» Autor: Dr. Willi Schütz, Preussische Hochschule, Spandau, Berlin (1927)
- «Das Neue Universum» Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, Stuttgart, Berlin, Leipzig (+-1930)
- «Das Rhönrad dreht sich seit 75 Jahren» Autor: Manfred Zirkelbach, Universitätsbibliothek Marburg (2000)
- «Rhönrad oder doch Pfalzrad?» Autor: Hässel Gerd (2010)
- Rhönrad Archiv von Dr. Jörg Winkler
- The History of the Wheel Gymnastics, IRV (2013)
- Patente Archive Depatisnet Deutschland
- Douglas Self’s Museum and Retro Technology
- Spaarnestad Photo Archive