The Stutz Bearcat, named after the binturong, was a well-known American sports car of the pre- and post-WW1 period. Essentially, the Bearcats were a shorter (120″ wheelbase vs 130″), lighter version of the standard Stutz passenger cars chassis. It was originally powered by a 390 in3, 60-horsepower straight four engine produced by the Wisconsin Motor Company. Common with racing and sports cars of the period, it featured minimal bodywork consisting of a “dog house” hood, open bucket seats, a tiny “monocle” windscreen in front of the driver, and a cylindrical fuel tank on a short rear deck. Production Bearcats differed from the factory “White Squadron” racers by having fenders, lights and a trunk. Factory literature from 1913 describes the Bearcat as “The Stutz Bearcat, designed to meet the needs of the customer desiring a car built along the lines of a racing car with a slightly higher gear ratio than our normal torpedo roadster, has met with great favor with motor car owners and meets the demand for a car of this class.”
Owning a Stutz Bearcat was a status symbol for rich folks around 1912-1914. It was not as expensive for Americans as imported European cars, but it was one of the most exclusive American cars of the era, and one of the sportiest too. The model ran until 1933. Manufacturers of children’s pedal cars latched onto the name for miniature versions; the example illustrated above is from a 1969 catalogue.
But, while the Stutz Bearcat might be one of the most exclusive American sportscar, famed for its light weight and speed, this Bear Cat Cyclet could hardly be more different. It weights a ton: I don’t know how a young child could cope with a cast iron bicycle?
It is totally over-engineered. The front fork uses the design of the Referee ‘triple head’ patented in England by George Leonard Morris in 1891 (patent no 11125). The internal front plunger brake was used by the Fairy children’s pavement cycle, but first used by French bicycles in the late 1890s. The Fairy was the market leader among this style of bicycle, but it was a lightweight machine, whereas the Bear Cat is very heavy for a child.
I’m not 100% sure of its manufacturer but, as you can see below, the well-established agricultural machinery manufacturer R. Herschel Mfg Co of Preoria, Illinois, branched out into children’s riding toys in 1915 and, although I’ve not found evidence of any riding toys besides their coaster wagons – which, pertinently, include the ‘Bear Cat Steel Bottom Coaster Wagon’ – this Cyclet seems very ‘agricultural’ in its construction. What I mean is that it was built to last, which is something that would be appreciated by customers who bought agricultural machinery, whereas customers of department stores would be attracted by bright paint and gimmicky accessories.
So my conclusion is that the company added a small range of riding toys to their catalogue from 1915 onwards to take advantage of their existing agencies and distribution network throughout the country. This was standard practice for such companies.
I believe the Bear Cat was made between 1920 and 1925. Solid disc wheels – heavy duty versions of those fitted to the ‘Bear Cat Steel Bottom Coaster Wagon’ – were used by other companies on their pavement cycles until 1928; mudguards were fitted from the early 1920s onwards. Cast iron was traditionally used for small components on children’s bicycles, in particular the rear step plates of tricycles. R. Herschel already made various cast iron agricultural items, so it seems logical to use the same process for the floor of the Cyclet. But I’ve never come across a cast iron step plate before like that used on this Bear Cat Cyclet; it reminds me of step plates used on railway wagons.
1925 Bear Cat Cyclet
R. Herschel Mfg Co, Preoria Illinois
11″ Wheels (8.5″ Diameter)
R. HERSCHEL MFG CO
R. HERSCHEL MFG CO
Herschel cast iron chain separator, above; 1894 Herschel patent for disk sharpener, below.