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.
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.
These very basic ‘rowing machine’ tricycles and quadricycles inspired a German engineer to create a bicycle that used a similar form of propulsion. It became known as the Hercules Cavallo (Cavallo being the Italian word for a horse).
1980s Hercules Cavallo
Torpedo Three-speed Gears
Compare the height of the Cavallo in the photos above (pumped up) and below (pumped down. This is the extent of its travel, which provides its propulsion.
You mount the machine with the saddle in the lower position. As you can see in the photo below, when the seat is in the lowest position the handlebars are upright (and the pedals are up). So pulling on the handlebars starts the motion and, as the seat rises, the pedals move down.
HERCULES CAVALLO HISTORY