By Aisling O’Malley, IET Archivist
The Dynasphere was created by engineer Dr John Archibald Purves who reportedly claimed it was the ‘high speed vehicle of the future’. Indeed, many publications at the time were open to the idea that this was the future of travel, with one questioning if this was ‘A New Era?’.
So, what was the Dynasphere and how did it work? Writing in the Women Engineer in 1934, Margaret Partridge, founding member of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and the Electrical Association for Women (EAW), sought to answer these questions.
Partridge described the Dynasphere as: ‘an outer light, hollow sphere, with its opposite cheeks cut off; inside that a loose tramway track, and inside again, a heavy truck running on the smooth tramway track’. Partridge also commented on the Dynasphere’s controls as being similar to ‘an ordinary car’ and its inability to skid as its propulsion was not dependent on the ‘mutual pull between wheel and road’. Simply put, Dr J.A. Purves had devised a monowheel that could comfortably seat two people and was long lasting due to the lack of deterioration that friction creates.
The question of visibility was also answered by Partridge, who claimed this was not an issue, comparing the Dynasphere to a ‘wheel of life’: ‘The solid portions of the lattice work spherical shell pass before the eyes so fast that they become invisible, and only the picture of the country in front affects the eye’.
Partridge was optimistic about the future of the Dynasphere arguing that its ‘mobility, economy and efficiency’ was an advantage over the vehicles at the time. However, unfortunately for Dr J.A. Purves, the Dynasphere was not a commercial success. The publication, ‘Popular Science’, suggested one cause for its failure; it claimed that the Dynasphere was prone to ‘gerbiling’, whereby passengers were spun inside the wheel when braking or accelerating.
Margaret Partridge’s article reflects the supportive professional relationship that she had with Dr J.A. Purves. In fact, Purves supported Partridge’s electrical engineering business and proposed her as a contractor for some of her earliest electric lighting schemes. In a correspondence from April 1925, Purves wrote to Partridge to provide practical advice on managing an electrical project in Thorverton, Devon. At the end, Purves tells Partridge, ‘Do not be downhearted but go on and get the job underway. Later on you will find that it is only the jobs that are difficult to get through that are worth doing at all’. Indeed, Partridge’s career demonstrated her tenacity where she successfully electrified towns and villages in rural Devon, was a successful businesswoman, and mentor of female engineers.
Popular Science – Google Books (Gerbiling)