1880s Tiller & Treadle Children’s Velocipede Tricycle
10″ Front Wheel
20″ Rear Wheels
This treadle-powered children’s tricycle has 20″ rear wheels and an overall length of 40″. First viewing suggests a relatively primitive design, but closer inspection reveals well-made joints and castings …and rear suspension!
This style of children’s tricycle was manufactured from the 1870s until the early 1920s. They were often bought for children by grandparents nostalgic about their own childhood. Early examples such as this are easily identified because they had metal rims without tyres and were more ornate.
This 130-year-old machine was manufactured in America. The metalwork is in excellent original unrestored condition, and the cushion and backrest were reupholstered a long time ago. It is complete and rideable.
VELOCIPEDE TRICYCLE HISTORY
The first velocipede tricycles with driving treadles and tiller steering appear to have been made around 1851. (See the one above at the Science Museum in London). Only one rear wheel was driven, with the other having a brass-bushed hub revolving freely on the driving axle. The wheels were wooden with iron tyres. The one illustrated above has a 24″ front wheel and 35″ rear wheels.
After the invention of the front-wheel driven Velocipede captured the public imagination in 1869, the cycle industry was created. Design evolved and, by 1880, the Ordinary (‘penny farthing’) and the high wheel tricycle ruled the roads.
Treadle-controlled velocipede tricycles for children, such as the one featured here, were made by many small manufacturers. They were expensive items in their day, purchased by rich families for their children. Early examples used wooden hubs and parts but, by the 1880s, they were made of steel, with cast iron fittings.
The early models had metal wheel rims that did not take a tyre, while later ones were fitted with solid rubber tyres.
Later velocipede tricycles often had headbadges; popular manufacturers of 1890s-1910s machines were Gendron, Fay, and Kirk. But nearly all the early ones have no makers names, having been sold through catalogues or early department stores, as well as by local makers.
As you can see from the 1920s Gendron catalogue, below, they marketed their velocipede tricycle at girls, while the front-driver tricycle was aimed at boys.
You can see a close-up image of a later example in the 1911 Colson catalogue, below.
BICYCLE v TRICYCLE
Until the advent of the safety bicycle – the first successful ‘rear-driver’ with central pedals was the Premier crossframe in 1886 – women drove tricycles while men rode, first, ‘boneshaker’ velocipedes (above) followed by ordinaries, below. This was a reflection of both the athletic prowess required to ride early bicycles and also conservative dress code of the day: tricycles allowed women to ride with modesty.
Rear suspension (below) was a feature that was already in use in buggies of the period.