Pedal cars for children first appeared in the late 1880s, when Karl Benz introduced his three-wheel Patent Motorwagen for adults. By the early 1900s, pedal cars were widespread, especially in the United States, England, France, and Australia.

One of the first companies to make three-wheel velocipedes for children was Whitney Reed, whose wooden horse pulling a sulky is a classic of the early form—the horse’s jointed legs moved when the operator pushed the pedals. Because automobiles are the main type of pedal toy sought by collectors, pedal toys like the early Whitney Reeds can be surprisingly easy to acquire.

Around the same time, Butler Brothers was making “Juvenile Steel Automobiles,” which is how the company described the pedal cars in its catalog. These cars had sheet-steel bodies, open steering systems and bottoms, and double-spoke wheels. Models included the Scorcher, the Wizard, and the Speedwell. The pedal version of the best-selling Ford Model T was especially popular among kids, and is highly prized today.

Before the war, the Bon Marché in Paris had been selling pedal cars designed after Grand Prix Peugeots. After the war, French toy maker Eureka continued this trend, making pedal cars fashioned after Peugeots, as well as Renaults and the Citroen Rosalie.

The U.K.’s Lines Bros offered its customers 30 pedal cars in its 1937/38 catalog, from the basic Prince, which was designed for 2-to-4-year olds, to the Electric Rolls, which had a wooden body and a 12-volt electric motor driving the rear axle. Naturally the car had working brakes and headlights, real Dunlop tires (including a spare), and chrome-plated rims. As for its performance, it could travel 12 to 15 miles on a single charge and had a top speed of 5 mph.

The heyday for pedal cars in the United States occurred between the World Wars. For example, pedal cars were fixtures in Sears catalogs. Unfortunately, they could only be sent to customers who lived near railroad tracks because mailing a steel car, even a small one, was simply not possible. Other companies that made pedal cars in the ’20s and ’30s included American National Automobiles of Toledo and Steelcraft of Murray, both based in Ohio.

Among other products, Steelcraft made GMC pedal trucks, as well as Mack dumptrucks, Model T Roadsters, Dodge Runabouts, and a Chrysler Roadster, which had bullet-shaped headlight...

Today these prices sound cheap, but the toys were not cheaply made. In fact, they were often as lavishly detailed as the real things. The steel was typically enameled to ensure rich colors, while pedals were adjustable to give young drivers a comfortable ride. Like the cars that adults drove, models ranged from economy (Whippet) to luxury (Studebaker). On the better models, steering wheels and other solid parts were custom cast.

After World War II, the J-40 (or Junior Forty) made by Lines Bros. in Wales by retired miners and modeled after the 1949 Austin A-40 was probably the most popular pedal car in England. In the 1950s, the company offered 33 pressed-steel-body pedal cars, its heavily chromed Tri-ang Centurian being the top of the line.

By the early 1960s, the company experimented with novelty cars such as the Noddy, which was like a small go-kart, but as the decade progressed it reverted back to pedal cars based on real automobiles such as the MG Midget.

Pedal cars were also popular in Australia. In fact, they have such a rich history there that the government recently issued a series of toy-theme stamps, including one with a red Cyclops pedal car from 1953. Though based in Australia, many of Cyclops’s pedal car designs were based on U.S. models and manufacturers, from Buick and Chevrolet, to Pontiac and Packard.

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Recent News: Pedal Cars

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Blast from the Past car show revving up
Richfield Reaper, July 23rd

An 18-foot trailer and a pedal car are also slated to be given away in a drawing during the show. Cost for tickets is $1 each, and are available at The Parts House, located at 65 North State Street in Salina, or at the show Saturday. For more...Read more

VIDEO: Torquay Pedal Car Grand Prix
Torquay Herald Express, July 21st

CROWDS flocked to Torquay sea front on Sunday to enjoy the thrills and spills of the annual Pedal Car Grand Prix. Teams from all over South Devon raced in relays around the course on Torre Abbey Meadows, raising money for charity as they went...Read more

Fabulous event sees Ringwood streets filled with pedal car fans
Salisbury Journal, July 16th

AN amazing day was had by the 10,000 people who crammed into Ringwood to see the spectacular 27th British Pedal Car Grand Prix. And the traders, publicans and stallholders had the best day of the year yet, thanks to the popularity of the crazy carts...Read more

Pedal car grand prix in Torquay this Sunday
Torquay Herald Express, July 14th

THE RACE will be on this Sunday for the Rotary Pedal Car Grand Prix. The annual two-hour endurance race gets under way at 2pm on Sunday on Torre Abbey Meadows with 10 teams of racers competing for the title. To mark the 50th year of the Rotary Club ...Read more

Ringwood preparing for Pedal Car Grand Prix
Salisbury Journal, July 7th

Some 35 teams will be taking part in the two-hour sprint race around the town. This year's favourites are defending champions New Milton Health and Leisure, led by Rob Mangles. Christchurch Bicycle Club are drawing on the thousands of training miles...Read more

Who will be champions of Pedal Car Grand Prix?
Bournemouth Echo, July 3rd

“The pedal car race is a family affair for Cliff, whose daughter Steph Mills is captain of the top ladies' team 'Squeals on Wheels'. Last year they finished third overall with help from Commonwealth, Olympic and World road race champion Nicole Cooke...Read more

Charity has go-karts and pedal car worth £6500 stolen by thieves in Cardiff Bay
WalesOnline, June 30th

A charity were targeted by callous thieves who stole six go-karts and a four-seater pedal car from Cardiff Bay on the weekend. Members of the disabled cycling charity Pedal Power were left devastated after they were robbed of about £6,500 worth of...Read more

Route chosen for return of Bristol pedal car race
Bristol Post, June 30th

BRISTOL'S first 24-hour pedal car race in 30 years has been given the green light for a new circuit on the Harbouside. The race, resurrected from a student tradition in the 1960, 70s and 80s, will take place around Millennium Square and Lloyds...Read more