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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A life's passion is preserved in Hampshire showroomChicago Daily Herald, December 8th
Other accentuations include a copper roof on the "store front" that Terry laid himself, a massive pedal car collection and authentic store signs. One design inspiration was a tribute to the space's heritage. "The building was a VFW hall when Dad...Read more
Artists often branch out with their worksYoungstown Vindicator, December 7th
Or an electric fan or pedal car designed by Viktor Schreckengost, who is best known for making the ceramic “Jazz Bowl,” an icon that has sold for as much as $200,000. Works by famous artists can be part of your collection if you buy war-bond posters ...Read more
Harry's mistletoe, false beards and a ride in William's pedal car - the ...Daily Mail, December 6th
Harry's mistletoe, false beards and a ride in William's pedal car - the surprises in store for Prince George's first Christmas at Sandringham. By Mary Watson. PUBLISHED: 17:30 EST, 6 December 2013 | UPDATED: 18:02 EST, 6 December 2013. 5. View...Read more
2014 Summit Racing Show Car Series Schedule AnnouncedHigh Performance Pontiac Magazine, December 2nd
A contest geared toward high school and trade school students near each show venue, known as the Genuine Hotrod Hardware Pedal Car Challenge, will allow students to customize and display pedal cars which are supplied by Genuine Hotrod Hardware...Read more
Pedal vehicles are collector's latest hobbySoutheast Missourian, December 1st
A couple of pedal airplanes hang from his garage ceiling, along with a light blue Thunderbird pedal car and a shiny red wagon and race car of the same shade. The skillets are in one corner. Shelves are lined with semi-trucks, some dating to the 1930s, ...Read more
Child-sized Ferrari toy sells for $126500The Globe and Mail, November 24th
Porsche-philes can introduce their offspring to the make through Porsche Design creations that include a baby 918RSR racer, two types of pedal-car 911s, and a cool pedal go-kart. A classic Porsche 356 electric is also being produced. Audi is pushing a ...Read more
Blue Crush Pedal CarLowrider Magazine, November 21st
As a member of Elite Car Club in Hawaii, David Domingo found himself in a predicament. David wanted to build a pedal car for his first son, but unfortunately his busy work schedule kept him on the road and unable to do so. Opportunity soon came for...Read more
Pedal Car CollectionWCHS-TV8, November 14th
Kevin bought and restored an old toy pedal car and hasn't looked back since, Owner of Kevin's Autobody in Hurricane, Gillispie's pedal car collection has grown substantially, and is proudly displayed for customers to see in his spacious showroom...Read more