At first, there were bicycles. Millions of men and some women rode them for transportation in America over a century ago. Then there were carriages. Then cars. All very dependent upon wheels. Speed. Motion. Freedom.
Eventually, not really very long after America started to fall in love with the automobile, children in this country were introduced to miniature cars, juvenile automobiles, or as they are fondly known now, pedal cars. Catalogues featured them on their toy pages 100 years ago, department stores put them in window displays, hardware stores found shelf and floor space for child-sized vehicles powered by pedals. Children loved them and adults apparently found them just plain cute. A century later, ‘cute’ doesn’t adequately describe these cars to the people who collect them.
Pedal Cars: Chasing the Kidillac, by Jane Dwyre Garton
Toy manufacturers have been producing pedal cars just about as long as car manufacturers have been building cars. Karl Benz is credited with making the first modern automobile in 1885 and the first patent for a pedal car was issued in the early 1890s. Pedal cars became increasingly popular after the turn of the century and manufacturers began to model them on the current automobile designs. Pedal cars mimicked the design of the Buick, Packard or Pierce Arrow of that model year. This included the Cadillac, which was the inspiration for the Garton Kidillac.
Of all the pedal car makers in the United States, the Garton Toy Company of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, made toy autos for the longest time, from 1904 until 1975. From the time the company was founded in 1879 until it was sold by the family in 1973, wheel toys were its major fare. Garton juvenile cars – though never the company’s largest selling line, compared to sleds and tricycles and wagons – were featured early in the century in Montgomery Ward catalogues under a variety of names.
The 1930s were the heyday of the pedal car, styled by the top designers of the time. Because of the steel shortage, pedal car manufacture declined in the 1940s. But they made a comeback in the 1950s, and pedal car sales boomed. The Kidillac, introduced soon after World War II, was the top-of-the-line model of all the pedal cars Garton produced, and is the best-known model today. It had a steel chassis, chain-powered pedaling and a two-tone paint job, as well as chrome detailing like the big car. There was also an electric horn, head and taillights. Authenticity was key among consumers, so the Kidillac had a spare tire kit just like the real Cadillac, as you can see in my photo above of the ‘Hallmark Classic’ model of the Kidillac (Even this 8″ model is top-of-the-range, with real pedals, belt-drive and steering).
The Garton Kidillac was the ultimate pedal car for children in the fifties, and was manufactured until 1963. As well as a cheaper basic model without accessories or chain driven pedal system, there were two variants, the ‘Police Chief’ and ‘Fire Chief.’
1953 Garton Kidillac ‘Fire Chief’ Pedal Car
In America, the Kidillac became the most sought-after postwar pedal car. Until recently, most collectors restored them. But now, with the scarcity of original unrestored examples, a Kidillac in original condition is the ultimate treasure. There were variations in accessory options, and also a chain drive as well as pedal drive, but Garton only made two model variants: the ‘Police Chief’ and ‘Fire Chief.’ Far fewer of these two styles were made, and these two are now the rarest Kidillacs.
This example is wonderfully original and complete, requiring only a front badge, horn bulb, radio aerial and fire bell. An industry has grown up around the restoration of the Kidillac pedal car, and these items are available.
GARTON KIDILLAC: PEDALS & UNDERSIDE
Info thanks to – http://www.vintagevending.com/1950-garton-pink-kidillac-pedal-car