Text and photos copyright Swiss Basel Museum and Pasky/2014
These delightful pictures presents historic pedal cars for children from the period from 1920 to the 1950s for one-time children and today’s big kids
A pedal car is a specially designed, small-scale car for children, moved by turning the pedals with muscle power, as with a bicycle. Today, toys of this type are mostly made of plastic. In earlier times they were made of tinplate, for which reason the old models belong to the “tin toy” category. Because of the high prices and the amount of space they occupy, pedal cars were only affordable for wealthy families.
The first pedal cars were produced in Germany and France around 1900. At first, rather than being based upon any particular vehicle, these first children’s pedal cars represented ideals of the motor car. The bodywork was generally made of wood with deeply cut-out sides that made it easy to get into and saved the need to incorporate opening doors. The chassis was usually made of metal and the spoke wheels were based on bicycle wheels.
In the 1920s, the toy industry became an increasingly important economic factor. New production processes and materials enabled mass production. Whereas pedal cars were originally made by hand or in very small numbers by craftsmen or bicycle makers, a mass-production industry specializing in children’s cars now developed. Soon after the full-size originals took to the streets, children’s cars became a permanent feature in big department stores in Europe and the USA.