James Starley (born 21 April 1831, died 17 June 1881) was an English inventor and father of the bicycle industry. He was one of the most innovative and successful builders of bicycles and tricycles. His inventions include the differential gear and the perfection of chain-driven bicycles.
Starley was born in 1831 at Ashbourne, Sussex, the son of Daniel Starley, a farmer. He began working on the farm at nine, showing early talent as an inventor by making a rat trap from an umbrella rib and the branch of a willow tree. He ran away from home as a teenager and went to Lewisham, in south London. There he worked as an under-gardener, in his spare time mending watches and creating devices such as a mechanism to allow a duck to get through a hole in a fence, closing a door behind it if a rat tried to follow.
Starley's employer, John Penn, bought a rare and expensive sewing machine. Starley mended it when it broke down and improved the mechanism. Penn knew Josiah Turner, a partner of Newton, Wilson and Company, the makers of the machine, and in 1859 Starley joined its factory in Holborn. Turner and Starley started their own sewing machine company in Coventry around 1861. Coventry was the centre of the British bicycle industry and Turner's nephew brought a new French bone-shaker to the factory in 1868. The company started making bicycles.