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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

DFW Elite Toy Museum

DFW Elite Toy Museum

Ron Sturgeon's excellent gallery of fancy model cars and other vehicles. Nice high resolution shots with classy mus… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]

The Show Room

The Show Room

This gallery at Dave's Show Rod Rally features model show rods from 1960 to 2001. Favorites include the 1958 Thunde… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

2 Antique Garton Pedal Car Casey Jones Cannonball Express No 9 Lot. Rare Vintage 1939 Leeway Triumph Dolomite Pedal Car- Barn Find - Childs Ww2 ToyPedal Car Dukes Of Hazzard In Perfect Condition With BoxNib 1982 Coleco Knight Rider Kitt Talking Pedal Car Vintage 47" ***new/rare***1950's Vintage - Murray Sad Face Pedal CarVintage Eska 400 Mccormick Farmall TractorAntique 1951 Murray Fire Truck Pedal CarVintage Pedal Car LotBlue Police Patrol Trailer With Fenders ! Rare! Pedal Tractor, Wagon Riding Toy1930's Doodlebug Spe Da Way Pedal Cart Irish Mail Cart Push Pull Car Original!!!4 Murray Style Pedal Car 7 1/2 Ball Bearing Wheels And HubcapsVintage 1950s Murray Fire Truck Pedal Car Original !Hot Rod Style Pedal Car Replacement Wheels Rare 1950's Original Garton Super Sonda Pedal Car Scooter Vespa Barn FreshSadface "police " Pedal Car Body...all Steel..body Only 8 Inch Murray Style Pedal Car Replacement Wheels Vintage John Deere Ertl 520 Pedal Tractor Cast Aluminum Hot Rod Pedal Car...all Steel..body Only! 4-vintage Murray Pedal Car Wheels Black Chrome Pedal Car Steering Wheel Vintage Murray Instep4-vintage Murray Pedal Car 6.5" WheelsAmf Nos Red Plastic Hubcaps Set Of 4 Fits Most Amf VehiclesVintage Murray Pedal Car Sad Face Wagon Superb & Minty Guaranteed!!Giordani Studebaker In First Paint Pedal Car From 1961John Deere Pedal TractorSky King Pedal Planes By Airflow Collectibles Inc.1950's Garton Pedalcar BodyVintage Garton Pedal Car Steering Wheel And Mounting HardwareEvolution Of The Pedal Car Volume 5 Hardcover2-pedal Car Oak Ladders Pedal Car Murray Style Chrome Steering Wheel NiceErtl 1952 John Deer 520 Pedal Tractor Vintage Collectable Metal Pedal Car Toy Vintage Amf Tractone Pedal Tractor Seat & Hitch-partsVintage Amf Pedal Tractor Fenders-partsPedal Car Gold HubcapsVintage Amf Tractone Pedal Tractor Steering Wheel-partRusty Pedal Car Steering Wheel Vintage "fire And Rescue " Pedal Car Body...all Steel..body Only Bucker Jungmeister Pedal Plane Plans & Hardware KitVintage Junior Sportsters Pedal Car Parts Only!!! Pedal Car Repair Parts Pedal Car Murray Style Reproduction Front End Assy NiceNew 60s Murray Pedal Car Style Pedals With Bolts NewHot Rod Style Pedal Car Replacement 5th Wheel With License PlateEarly - Clipper Pedal Car Photo - Nice, Clear, In Your Face, Pedal Car Image!Pedal Car Smoothie HubcapsHot Rod Pedal Car Front Grill .....4 New Murray Repro 6.5" Pedal Car WheelsYellow Signal/turning Lights For Vw Bug Pedal Car 1 SetBebe Auto Cars For Kids Hardcover Book Pedal Car History Rizzoli Ny 4 LanguagesVintage Murray Pedal Car Rear Axle Assembly #2Vintage Murray Pedal Car Axle Assembly #3Pedal Car Parts New Amf Rear End Bearing Set MHot Rod Pedal Car Gold.....steel Windshield FrameHot Rod Pedal Car.....steel Windshield FrameHot Rod Pedal Car Front Grill .....Antique 1930s Childs Toy Pedal Car Auto Jalopy Hot Rod Rag Top Convertible PhotoAll Original Vintage Gt 1970 Pedal Car Turquoise Blue Good Pedals & Tires1 Pair Metal Side Pedal Plate For 1:10 Rc Crawler Model Car 4wd D90 Body Black1pcs Bicycle Titanium M6x25 Screw Ti Bolts Din912 Gr5