PARENTS – HERE’S HEALTH AND PLEASURE FOR YOUR BOYS AND GIRLS
The ‘Irish Mail’ Car is the only form of outdoor exercise for children that keeps them in robust health.
It is worth more than any medicine or ‘tonic’ on earth, because it is a perfectly natural method of forcing pure, fresh air into the lungs.
It assists digestion, soothes the nerves, reddens the blood, and develops strength and regularity of the heart action.
Arms, hands, wrists, shoulders, legs, ankles, back and chest are evenly developed by the steady forward and backward ‘wiring’ movement necessary to propel the IRISH MAIL.
No strain upon any part – no over-exercise of the legs at the expense of the chest, arms or back, as with the tricycle.
Speediest of all the children’s cars, because GEARED, yet can’t upset, as it is built so close to the ground.
Made of steel and selected hickory – simple, durable (not a ‘toy’ car) – no complex parts to break or get out of repair – will last for years with reasonable use.
Rubber tired, smooth, quiet, safe, easy-running – the IRISH MAIL runs without the nerve-racking clutter of the velocipede or wagon.
So get an IRISH MAIL today and start them on the road to perfect health. Their bright eyes, rosy cheeks and well-developed little bodies will be your best reward.
– Hill-Standard Mfg Co Irish Mail advert, 1906
The children’s ‘Irish Mail’ pedal car was developed from an early style of locomotion that predates the bicycle. The railways, introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, revolutionised society by providing cheap travel. Not only could local people now visit other areas safely and fast, but industry also had the means the transport goods cheaply and promptly. Rural areas benefited particularly.
As well as a regular train service provided by engines, small individual railway vehicles were built, for carrying one or two operators, primarily for track inspection or to convey engineers to repair track where required. The first models were geared, with a large lever used for propulsion. These machines were also used to transport mail in rural areas. After the introduction of the velocipede in 1869, railway vehicles were also built as pedal bicycles with three or four track wheels (you can see my 1898 Teetor Railway Velocipede further down the page).
It is believed that, with the influx of Irish immigrants to the USA, the name ‘Irish Mail’ was attached to the junior version of geared pull-cart that became popular around the world at the end of the nineteenth century. It was promoted not just as a toy, but as a means of healthy exercise for children. Using one certainly does strengthen the upper body rather than just the legs as with a bicycle or tricycle, and such machines are still made today for adults for just that purpose (see the link at the bottom of the page).
The ‘Irish Mail’ captured the popular imagination in America, and this style of toy became a ‘must-have’ for children from 1900 onwards. Like soap box derby cars and go-karts later in the century, kids not only used them while they were young, but built their own versions when they became teenagers and raced against each other.
1908 Glasscock Racer ‘Hand Car’
with double lever action
Rear wheels 17.5″
Front wheels 12″
Wooden rims with metal band tyres
The double lever action pedal car is the rarest form of ‘irish mail’ and few have survived into the 21st century. It was advertised for ‘boys and girls from six to fifteen years of age’. The catalogue illustration from 1908 (below) shows rubber tyres, whereas the example featured here has metal band tyres, so it might be earlier or a cheaper version.
This item has not been easy to research. I’ve managed to find a few other pictures of similar lever action ‘hand cars’ of the same era, and my feeling is that several companies made them around 1908 but that the design became obsolete soon after, with the single lever ‘irish mail’ style taking over.
This unusual hand car is in good all round condition. Various nuts and bolts have been replaced over the years and it was repainted 30 years ago by the previous owner who had it on display in a museum. It’s ready to ride.
1908 CATALOGUE EXTRACT
Below you can see the No 3 model for comparison. The lever action is made easier on this one and it is recommended for girls.
IRISH MAIL ADVERTS: 1906-1915
UNDERNEATH THE PEDAL CAR
Hand lever tricycles were most common during the mid to late 19th century. Though it’s unusual to see the hand lever design after 1900, it was used in various types of invalid carriage (below).
RAILWAY VELOCIPEDE CAR
The Irish Mail pedal car developed from railway velocipede cars. The example below was used as a track inspection vehicle.