Friday September 10, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Rickshaw (or Tuk Tuk)

On this Day:

In 1869, a Baptist minister named Jonathan Scobie (or Jonathan Goble), an American missionary to Japan, is said to have invented the rickshaw around 1869 to transport his invalid wife through the streets of Yokohama. However the story may be running rickshaw over the truth…

A rickshaw originally denoted a two or three-wheeled passenger cart, now known as a pulled rickshaw, which is generally pulled by one person carrying one passenger. The first known use of the term was in 1879. Over time, cycle rickshaws (also known as pedicabs or trishaws), auto rickshaws, and electric rickshaws were invented, and have replaced the original pulled rickshaws, with a few exceptions for their use in tourism.

Pulled rickshaws created a popular form of transportation, and a source of employment for male labourers, within Asian cities in the 19th century. Their appearance was related to newly acquired knowledge of ball-bearing systems. Their popularity declined as cars, trains and other forms of transportation became widely available.

Auto rickshaws are becoming more popular in some cities in the 21st century as an alternative to taxis because of their low cost of hire.

The first rickshaws were invented in France in the late 17th century, to fulfill, along with other types of carriages such as cabriolets and fiacres, the unmet demand for public transportation created by the 1679 cessation of Paris’ first omnibus service. These vehicles, called “vinaigrettes” for their resemblance to the handcarts used by contemporary vinegar-sellers, were fully-enclosed two-wheeled carriages with space for a single person. Usually, they were moved by two people; one holding the bars at the front and the other pushing from behind.

Rickshaws were independently invented in Japan circa 1869, after the lifting of a ban on wheeled vehicles from the Tokugawa period (1603–1868), and at the beginning of a period of rapid technical advancement in Japan.

There are many theories about the inventor, with the most likely and widely accepted theory describing the rickshaw as having been invented in Japan in 1869, by Izumi Yosuke, who formed a partnership with Suzuki Tokujiro and Takayama Kosuke to build the vehicles, having been “inspired by the horse carriages that had been introduced to the streets of Tokyo a few years earlier”.

Other theories about the inventor of the rickshaw include:

  • Jonathan Scobie (or Jonathan Goble), an American missionary to Japan, is said to have invented the rickshaw around 1869 to transport his invalid wife through the streets of Yokohama.
  • An American blacksmith named Albert Tolman is said to have invented the rickshaw, or “man drawn lorry” in 1846 in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a South American bound missionary.
  • In New Jersey, the Burlington County Historical Society claims an 1867 invention by carriage maker James Birch, and exhibits a Birch rickshaw in its museum.

Japan historian Seidensticker wrote of the theories:

Though the origins of the rickshaw are not entirely clear, they seem to be Japanese, and of Tokyo specifically. The most widely accepted theory offers the name of three inventors, and gives 1869 as the date of invention.

An auto rickshaw is a motorized version of the pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw. Most have three wheels and do not tilt. They are known by many terms in various countries including auto, auto rickshaw, baby taxi, pigeon, bajaj, chand gari, lapa, tuk-tuk, Keke-napep, Maruwa, 3wheel, pragya, bao-bao and tukxi.

The auto rickshaw is a common form of urban transport, both as a vehicle for hire and for private use, in many countries around the world. They are especially common in countries with tropical or subtropical climates, since they usually are not fully enclosed, and in many developing countries because they are relatively inexpensive to own and operate. As of 2019, Bajaj Auto of Pune, India is the world’s largest auto rickshaw manufacturer, selling 780,000 during the fiscal year.

There are many different auto rickshaw designs. The most common type is characterized by a sheet-metal body or open frame resting on three wheels; a canvas roof with drop-down side curtains; a small cabin at the front for the driver (in India, the Autokaarar, auto-wallah or tuktuk-wallah), with handlebar controls; and a cargo, passenger, or dual purpose space at the rear. Another common type is a motorcycle that has an expanded sidecar or, less often, is pushing or pulling a passenger compartment (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Punning in Japanese requires a lifelong dedication. It helps to have a good sensei humour.

Second, a Song:

It’s time to start the tuk-tuk’s and go on the most gruelling trip through the bustling city streets, challenging off road terrain to get from Kaluaggala to the historic & scenic city of Dambulla!

Register with your team of 3 now to participate in the ultimate Tuk Tuk challenge in Sri Lanka designed to test the body & mind of the participants as you make your way through Sri Lanka’s most scenic and testing routes! (per

Here is a video of “Red Bull Tuk It 2020” Tuk Tuk race by Vimarshanath Motagedara (Video Produced by Vivid Motions) (per  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Japan’s very interesting. Some people think it copies things. I don’t think that anymore. I think what they do is reinvent things. They will get something that’s already been invented and study it until they thoroughly understand it. In some cases, they understand it better than the original inventor.” – Steve Jobs

Further to the Computer Bug Smile, Michael Goler of Cleveland, Ohio writes:

‘David, I enjoy seeing these. Thanx for still doing them. 

PS. Happy belated birthday!  I hope you and Colleen celebrated “appropriately” 😉😉

and Gerry Wahl of North Vancouver, BC, Canada writes:

“1st ‘bug’ – interesting”

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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