A strong rival to derailluers for gear changing on bicycle was the Sturmey Archer three speed hub. The SA Hub had internal gears, which were selected using a lever on the handle bars. They are reliable, sturdy, and trouble free.
The Sturmey Archer hub was designed in 1902 by a schoolmaster, Henry Sturmey, and an engineer, James Archer. Both of these men had designed earlier internally geared hubs, and were brought together by Frank Bowden, inventor of the Bowden cable in 1894, and owner of Raleigh Bicycles. Raleigh favored use of Sturmy Archer hubs, which left the French to develop and popularize the derailleur. The story of the development of the derailleur is told in the wonderful book “The Dancing Chain”, by Frank Berto and Daniel Rebour.
Tony Hadland has written a book on the Sturmey Archer Story that has the complete history of SA Hubs. As usual, Sheldon Brown of Harris Cyclery has detailed information about Sturmey Archer hubs, the various models, and repairing them.