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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Antiques collector's beloved treasures on the auction blockThe Daily News of Newburyport, July 6th
The 1932 Dodge pedal car that was featured in the “American Pickers” episode, which the hosts really coveted. “It shows his true values as far as being a preservationist,” Meader said. “He did not commit to only one avenue--he saw the beauty in...Read more
Petal father builds custom vintage car stroller for sonJackson Clarion Ledger, July 5th
“When he gets older, I can take the floor out of the stroller and put all the pedal car parts back in so he can ride it around on his own,” Osenbaugh said. “Some of my nephews saw this and asked me to make something like this for them with their Power...Read more
Rare pedal car built in a Bargoed factory more than 60 years ago sells at ...WalesOnline, July 2nd
An extremely rare pedal car that helped injured miners get back on their feet has been sold for £4,400. Introduced in 1949 and only made for one year, this classic children's pedal car holds a special place in the Rhymney Valley town of Bargoed. The...Read more
Petal father builds custom vintage car strollerHattiesburg American, June 24th
"When he gets older, I can take the floor out of the stroller and put all the pedal car parts back in so he can ride it around on his own," Osenbaugh said. "Some of my nephews saw this and asked me to make something like this for them with their Power...Read more
Schools urged to join Darwen Pedal Car Grand Prix.Lancashire Telegraph, June 21st
SCHOOLS and colleges are being urged to get involved in the 6th annual Darwen Pedal Car Grand Prix. This year the event organisers say that they hope that the event will be even bigger and better than before, and are hoping to attract hundreds of ...Read more
Wienermobile pedal car a rare itemPress of Atlantic City, June 12th
Question: My father-in-law asked me to write to you about a yellow, red and black plastic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile pedal car he won at a Newark supermarket contest during the 1970s. It is 48 inches long and shaped like a hot dog on a bun. Because Dad ...Read more
Lowrider Pedal Cars - Mini ChariotsLowrider Magazine, June 11th
While attending a car show, Ruben noticed that his son focused all his attention on a pedal car on display. "He wanted to play with it so I decided to build him one after that." He found one in Yorba Linda, California, and it only took him four months...Read more
70 vintage pedal cars lead to record sale of automobilia collectiblesGizmag, January 30th
Rare is the child that doesn't want a pedal car. Pedal cars have been available since the time of the very first motorcars they sought to emulate in the late eighteenth century. For much of the last century, such cars were the exclusive domain of the...Read more