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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What to do in El Paso: Events March 27-29El Paso 411, March 27th
César Chávez Day at Lincoln Park – Live music, picnic, entertainment and motorcycle, lowrider bike and pedal car show at Lincoln Park, 4001 Durazno. A new column mural, “Dolores Huerta,” will be dedicated. 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Free. 411: 204-1584...Read more
All the fun of Dreamland: Margate amusement park set to reopen in JuneThe Guardian, March 27th
The 17 rides, evoking the old-fashioned fun of the traditional British seaside, include a replica helter skelter, a vintage pedal car roadway, a Wedgwood teacup ride, dodgems and a ferris wheel. A roller disco, Punch and Judy show and Messhams Wall of ...Read more
Just Drive Safe Driving Expo will take place April 4Northwest Georgia News, March 26th
For little children, there will be a course set up with a pedal car, Ellenburg said. Other displays will feature buses and a diesel truck with cars parked in the blind spots. “People will be able to get in the driver's seat and see how the car just can...Read more
Morris Minor pedal car makes more than the real thing at Shropshire auctionshropshirestar.com, March 26th
Modelled after the J-40 pressed steel pedal car made by Nuffield Group in the 1950s, the updated version used lighter materials and was closely modelled on the Minor 1000. The auction proved an all-round success with a boxed Corgi Batmobile, complete ...Read more
Rare Morris Minor pedal car expected to sell for £1200 at Shrewsbury auctionshropshirestar.com, March 24th
The toy car, which was made by the Morris Minor Centre of Bath, is one of only 56 ever made in 1993. It will go under the hammer at Halls' toys and interiors auction at the Battlefield salerooms tomorrow. Modelled after the J-40 pressed steel pedal car...Read more
Spirax Sarco Hosts Children's Pedal Car Charity Event for Saint John's PreschoolVirtual-Strategy Magazine (press release), March 18th
Spirax Sarco employee's came together to kick off Spring with an afternoon of collaborative team building and charitable giving. Blythewood, South Carolina (PRWEB) March 19, 2015. Spirax Sarco, the leader in products and services for steam system ...Read more
Anthony Cowden: Boehner and his pedal carThe Providence Journal, March 6th
Immigration reform has demonstrated John Boehner's true nature as a leader. After the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, Boehner wouldn't bring it up for debate or a vote on the House floor. President Obama waited for over a year...Read more
2015 Detroit AutoramaHot Rod Network, March 6th
Cars from the "Fast & Furious" movie set are present to walk around, how about Meguiar's car care tips or the Pedal Car Challenge presented by Genuine Hot Rod Hardware. It never stops for these three days in March (Friday through Sunday) as the ...Read more