Definition: a bicycle with a large front wheel and a small rear wheel common from about 1870 to 1890
The bicycle with a very large front wheel and tiny rear wheel was invented in France in 1869. The large front wheel allowed for faster speeds, since the power from the pedals at the hub of the wheel was direct drive. A larger wheel meant a greater distance traveled for each pedal turn as well as a smoother ride over bumpy roads. This kind of bicycle was called a hi-wheel or an ordinary after the invention of the chain-driven safety bicycle with equal wheel size.
The term penny-farthing arose in Britain, where a farthing was a small coin worth ¼ of a penny. Put next to each other, the penny resembled the large front wheel and the farthing resembled the small rear wheel. They were dangerous and expensive but popular, and it was because of them that bicycling truly became a sport.