Early pedal cars are historically interesting as their development closely followed the introduction of the automobile.
Colonel Pope, who made the Columbia bicycle, was America’s largest cycle manufacturer. In the late 1890s, with the US cycle market saturated and suffering, he started developing automobiles. The first Pope cars were electric, and the ‘Columbia Electric Runabout’ was the U.S market leader in 1903. At the turn of the century, there were no petrol pumps or gas stations, and nobody knew whether electric or petrol would be the way to go for this new form of transportation. But, within a few years, ‘motor bicycles’ came onto the scene and, with new developments in engines, petrol power started to challenge electric power. Pope hedged his bets, and the new 1904 ‘Columbia Touring Car’ sported a 2 cylinder petrol engine.
Whereas earlier cars used tiller steering, the ‘Columbia Touring Car’ had another innovation – a steering wheel. The year 1904 is worth remembering when looking at early pedal cars, as it means that pedal cars with a steering wheel would not have been manufactured before this time (and most likely several years later).
Pedal car makers used the names of the automobiles of the day. This ‘Columbia Automobile’ pedal car was not made by one of Colonel Pope’s companies. I believe it was made by one of the Toledo riding toy manufacturers, most likely Gendron, whose best known range of pedal cars was the ‘Pioneer’.
This early style of pedal car did not have seats, instead the body was based on the coaster wagon. The wooden floor is hinged in the middle, and folds up to allow the driver to put their feet through to the pedals. In terms of full-size adult automobiles it could be considered to be based on a basic two seater ‘runabout’ rather than a six-seater ‘tourer’.
The earliest advertisement I’ve found for the Columbia Automobile pedal car is from 1908, and it illustrates a seat at the rear, whereas mine is the same as the period photo below, without a seat. I think it’s most likely that the seat was removed or broke, but it’s possible that earlier examples did not have a seat. Nevertheless, I’ve based my estimate of its age on the earliest available dated illustration – 1908.
1908 Columbia Automobile Pedal Car
16″ Rear Wheels; 10″ Front Wheels
1912 MARSHALL-WELLS HARDWARE Co CATALOGUE
1908 MORLEY-MURPHY HARDWARE Co CATALOGUE
OTHER PEDAL CARS OF THIS ERA