TO FLY OR NOT TO FLY?
“If ever you knew a Yankee lad,
Wise or otherwise, good or bad,
Who seeing the birds fly, wouldn’t jump
With flapping arms from stake or stump.
Or spreading the tail of his coat for a sail,
take a soaring leap from post or rail,
and wonder why he couldn’t fly
and flap and flutter and wish and try…”
– ‘Darius Green & His Flying Machine’, by John T. Trowbridge, 1870
John T. Trowbridge wrote his renowned poem in 1870, and it took the fancy of youngsters of that time as well as subsequent generations. I’m sure that also, consciously or unconsciously, it inspired some of those youngsters, as they grew up, to transform their earth-bound bicycles into flying machines.
It’s now so common to jump onto an airplane for our holidays, it’s easy, in the 21st century, to take flying for granted. But the first sustained flight with a powered, controlled aircraft was not really that long ago – in 1903, presumably the Wright Brothers’ “Flyer 1”, but possibly Alberto Santos-Dumont’s “14-Bis”.
Many enthusiasts and inventors built pedal-airplanes, especially after Robert Peugeot of France offered a prize for the first flight of a distance of 10 metres or 33 feet, in 1912. There were many attempts at this, and Peugeot gave several consolation prizes, some of them for distances less than the long-jump record of the time which was 7.61 metres (Peter O’Connor in Dublin, 5 Aug 1901). But the prize was not won for nine years.
The publicity surrounding the first airplanes meant that pedal cars with added wings and propellor were a certain winner, though their design was interrupted by World War One. By the early 1920s, when the riding toy market resumed, pedal airplanes became a popular variation of the pedal automobile.
Charles Lindbergh’s solo 1927 flight across the Atlantic received massive news coverage. It was not the first Atlantic crossing – two British pioneers did that in 1919 from Newfoundland to Ireland – but he did it alone and between two major international cities. After that, pedal car airplanes became extremely popular around the world.
1920s Airplane pedal car
with metal body
Front wheels 10.5″
Rear wheel 6″
Solid rubber tyres
This lovely relic of bygone play-times is in unrestored condition, with its paint long gone. The majority of pedal car airplanes are replicas made in the past 30 years. So I am only interested in examples in this type of condition that I can see are original, and from the 1920s.
There are a few small holes in the metal body, probably where accessories were mounted. The propeller is a modern replacement. It is of sturdy construction, with rivetted panels (the same as full size planes). This is a hand-built pedal car with a simple design, I assume from a time (early 1920s) before mass-production took over the industry. Despite lacking steering apparatus, it’s mechanically functional.