The years in the run up to the start of the First World War were a period of exceptional exuberance in the French cycling world. Reading the cycling press of the time you can feel the swagger of success and an overwhelming, almost ecstatic, confidence in the future.
Derailleur development reflected this mood, with a raft of well engineered and sophisticated systems hitting the market. Crucially, these included Joanny Panel’s 1912 Le Chemineau. This design, inspired by a home-made derailleur developed by Paul de Vive, was simple, elegant, strong, reliable and relatively affordable. In the hands of a man with the gift for self promotion (which Joanny Panel had in spades) it became a sure-fire success and drove the early derailleur market.
It is frequently suggested that, at the time, many politicians thought that war in Europe was impossible because there was so much trade between nations and because people were too busy inventing things, making things and selling things to each other. They considered that you would have to be a lunatic to throw all this away. Unfortunately the inter-bred royal houses of Europe have never lacked for a lunatic. They can usually provide a fulsome choice of lunatics, each of whom has an innate ability to detect, and avail themselves of, any opportunity to create wholesale misery and cataclysmic disaster. This time the man for the job was Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht von Preußen.
Again, the French cycling press of the time conveys the all-consuming sense of shock caused by the outbreak of war. At one point I thought that I would try to find at least one piece of derailleur related literature dating from every year of the 20th century. I have had no particular difficulty with doing this for nearly every year, including every year during the Second World War, but I have signally failed to find anything from 1915, 1916 and 1917. In these years there is nothing.
Browse the derailleurs from the 1910s...
Where you see a red link, this is for a derailleur model which I do not (yet?) have in my collection - but for which I do have some kind of real and relevant documentation.