THE EVOLUTION OF CHILDREN’S TRICYCLES
The Great Exhibition of 1851, had on show a cart wheel shod with rubber, and a contempory report states “it was allowed to roll over the hands and feet of the bystanders without causing the slightest sensation of pain”, adding optimistically “running over a living being would cause no injury to life or limb.”
The first velocipede tricycles with driving treadles and tiller steering appear to have been made around 1851. (See the example below 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 below 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 were made by a variety of manufacturers. They were expensive items in their day, purchased by rich families for their children. The earliest examples used wooden hubs and parts but, by the 1880s, wheels were made of steel, with cast iron fittings.
Although rubber tyres were already available, the earliest models had metal wheel rims that did not take a tyre; by the 1880s, steel wheels with solid rubber tyres were offered as an option.
Smaller manufacturers of velocipede tricycles were less likely to fit a head badge. Some were made in the same style as those from better known manufacturers, so their maker’s name would have been a disadvantage; others were supplied wholesale. Department stores, catalogue companies and local shops often fitted their own badges and sometimes gave the tricycles new model names. This meant that the same tricycle could have a different name at various outlets.
Larger manufacturers also supplied these retail outlets, as well as using their own distribution networks and agents. They were more likely to add their own company or model names, particularly to those sold they sold direct to the public. Popular larger American manufacturers included Gendron, Fay, and Kirk.
LEVER DRIVE FAIRY v CHAIN DRIVE FAIRY
Clarification regarding terminology will help the following research. At the time, there was no universal description beyond the name ‘velocipede tricycle’ to define children’s tricycles. But various styles emerged, and I will refer to each as follows:
THE TILLER & TREADLE TRICYCLE: The tiller was developed from farm equipment. A small wheel at the front was controlled by a long steering handle (tiller) that stretched back to the seat. The tiller could be reversed so the tricycle could be pulled along. Peter Gendron was an early patentee in the USA (1879). The cycle companies marketed the tiller & treadle style of tricycle at girls. This design was still in use at the end of the 1920s (though outdated by then). Some early variations had the treadle connected to a sprocket with chain to one rear hub.
THE MANUMOTIVE TRICYCLE: The steering of manumotive tricycle was controlled by a handle on one side of the seat, with the brake on the other side. Tiller steering was the cheapest design, but some makers created juvenile versions of the adult manumotive tricycles that were popular with fashionable ladies in the 1870s and 1880s.
THE HORSE TRICYCLE (HAND-LEVER CHAINDRIVE): These were particularly popular in France in the late 1880s and 1890s. 99% of those available today are recent ‘aged’ replicas made in Eastern Europe.
THE VELOCIPEDE TRICYCLE: Boys were encouraged to buy velocipede tricycles with pedals in the front wheels. The first boy’s tricycles were scaled down versions of the 1869/1870 style adult velocipede with a rear axle added, plus smaller versions of the velocipede hub, spoke and wheel rim (the technology for such already in existence for wheels for horse carts). They had wood frames to start with, followed by metal frames. By the 1880s, most had metal wheels too. With added styling features, the velocipede tricycle became very popular in the 1930s (and were now marketed at both boys and girls), and was the most common kid’s tricycle until the 1960s.
CHAIN DRIVEN ‘DIRECT STEERING’ TRICYCLE (Large Rear Wheels): Referred to in a French catalogue as a ‘Criper’ tricycle (after the Humber Cripper), and described in 1888 as ‘Direct Steering,’ adult versions with large rear wheel became very fashionable among women in the late 1880s. Many juvenile versions were also made.
CHAIN DRIVEN TRICYCLE (Equal Size Wheels): By the late 1910s, children’s tricycles with pedal and chain and equal size wheels were being made too, though they were more popular to start with in Europe than in North America. Chain-driven tricycle design took a major step forward during WW1 as a result of invalid-carriages made for wounded soldiers in the war.
It’s not easy to describe the age of children’s tricycles accurately, as many continued to be made in the older styles for longer than you might suppose. So I’ve started this page as a database, to observe the changing styles of tricycle in close-up views. I’ll add to it over the coming months to help our understanding of how the children’s tricycle evolved.
Various modifications to the basic tricycle design were necessary for children’s tricycles to evolve. One example is adjustable seat height:
1880 G.E WHITMORE TRICYCLE: ADDITIONAL 1887 PATENT FOR ADJUSTABLE SEAT
This invention relates to an improvement in tricycles for which Letters Patent No. 226,578 were granted to me ApriL, 1880. The said … By making the seat adjustable the tricycle can adapt itself to any child, thereby overcoming the difficulty experienced in tricycles having a stationary seat.
1880s MANUMOTIVE JUVENILE TRICYCLE
An alternative form of steering was offered in the Manumotive tricycle seen above (sold a few years ago to a museum abroad). Similar examples include the Centaur ‘School’ tricycle.
THE CHAIN DRIVEN ‘DIRECT STEERING’ TRICYCLE (Large Rear Wheels)
Centaur’s ‘Juvenile Automatic’ in the catalogue above was one of many offered in this style after 1886. Singer offered similar…
You can see similar described as a ‘Criper’ in the 1897 Spanish catalogue below. Humber introduced the ‘Cripper’ in 1887, the year after chain-driven bicycles were introduced.
THE HORSE TRICYCLE
TILLER & TREADLE CHAIN-DRIVEN TRICYCLE (aka CRIPPER)
Spalding’s 1885 ‘Petite’ tricycle was offered in wood and steel, with rubber tyres optional. This version has the treadle system connected by sprocket and chain to one rear hub.
THE JUVENILE TILLER & TREADLE TRICYCLE
These were scaled down versions of adult tiller and treadle tricycles which had gone out of fashion due to the popularity of adult manumotive tricycles and pedal tricycles in the 1880s.
1895: WROUGHT IRON BOY’S & LITTLE BEAUTY GIRL’S
METAL WHEEL & RUBBER TYRE
1907 WORTHINGTON MFG CO ‘FAIRY’
1909: EDWARD K. TRYON Co ‘KEYSTONE’ TRICYCLES
1910: KIRK-LATTY MFG CO
1914: SEARS & ROEBUCK
THE VELOCIPEDE TRICYCLE
THE CHAIN DRIVEN TRICYCLE (Equal Size Wheels)