GO PLACES IN JET TIME when you pump the handle back and forth …real exercise for boys and girls. Rigidly braced one-piece steel frame, ball-bearing chain drive completely enclosed for safety. Ball-bearing connecting rod, drive shaft, rear axle support and wheels …8 inch front and 12 inch rear, with 1.25 inch semi-pneumatic tyres. Yellow with black.
– Hawthorne Bikes and Velocipedes catalogue extract, pages 350-351
‘Irish Mail’ pedal cars were popular throughout the twentieth century, at least until the late sixties when the cycle industry muscled into the business with well-researched and designed new products aimed directly at the young market. It’s interesting to see the evolution of styles from the original very basic ‘Irish Mail’ pictured above, with a wooden seat and spoked wheels, to the metal-bodied post-WW2 models such as the Garton Speedster featured here.
Essentially, the ‘Irish Mail’ evolved to reflect the new interest among young vehicle enthusiasts in hot rod cars. Young adults could strip down a jalopy, or race in local demolition derbies; teenagers built soap box derby cars; while youngsters either built an ‘Irish mail’ or – if their parents could afford it – got a new Speedster for Xmas.
With the sleek lines of its metal bodywork, and ‘big and little’ wheels (12″ at the rear and 8″ front) with wide tyres providing its raked look, Garton’s Speedster was the most popular version.
Whereas children who grew up prewar learned to ride on Irish Mails, the dream car for the 5-10 year-olds of the ‘baby boom’ generation was The Speedster.’
1959 Garton ‘Irish Mail’ Chain-Drive Speedster
Rear Wheels: 12.5″
Front Wheels: 8″
The Garston Speedster, a state-of-the-art development of the ‘Irish Mail’ of the late Victorian era, is a postwar American icon for an entire generation of ‘baby boomers’ who grew up in the affluent fifties and sixties. This example is in good original condition, missing only one rear tyre.
GENERAL MERCHANDISE & WARDS HAWTHORNE CATALOGUES
UNDERSIDE OF GARTON SPEEDSTER
GARTON TOY CO
Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA
For more than 95 years beginning in 1879, the Garton Toy Co. played Santa Claus and created great Christmases for children everywhere. They manufactured the coaster wagons, sleds, tricycles, scooters and pedal cars of which we all dreamed. At one time, Garton was the largest wheel goods toy factory in the world.
Company founder, Eusebius Bassingdale Garton was born near Toronto, Canada, in 1843 of English immigrants. E.B. arrived in America in 1864, finding employment at Jos. Richardson’s sawmill in Sheboygan Falls driving an oxen dray in the lumberyard.
E.B. had his first epiphany concerning toys while working for Sheboygan Carriage Company. Legend has it that young Garton put four wooden wheels on one of the cigar boxes manufactured there because he envisioned a “motion conveyance having play value for children” — a complicated explanation for toys, but then and there a toy dynasty began.
Garton Toy started in a small frame woodworking shop along the north bank of the Sheboygan River near the Eighth Street Bridge. It initially manufactured anything and everything that was needed by consumers including cigar boxes, washboards and fish boxes. But, as time passed, production moved toward toys. By 1882, the nation’s first coaster wagon, all-wooden in construction — even wheels and axles — was introduced by the firm.
The year 1887 brought one of Garton’s first catalogs featuring the new Pony Express wagon with iron wheels instead of wood.
As the century progressed, new products were introduced, stick horses, fancy willow carriages, hooded toy cradles, a child’s parlor swing and a striped wagon that could be pulled by a dog or goat.
In 1890, the company suffered heavy financial loss when fire leveled the plant after sparks from the smoke stack of the neighboring Halsted factory ignited Garton Toy.
After considering and rejecting a move to Chicago, a new and larger factory was built on property at North Water Street and Niagara Avenue in Sheboygan. This new factory employed 150 and was logically outfitted with a primitive sprinkler system, albeit state-of-the-art for the time.
For the next 50 years Garton Toy introduced something new to the toy market annually. The company’s first star was an iron velocipede, a forerunner of the tricycle. It had large spoke, metal wheels, a fiber seat and wooden handlebars. Next came the sled, introduced in 1915 at a time when Garton Toy Co. was recognized as a leader in the toy industry. An ironclad wagon, a revision of the original wooden one, also appeared sometime around 1915.
Soon after came sidewalk autos or pedal cars. They ranged from deluxe models like the Pierce Arrow to more mundane brands like the Buick. The most distinctive toy in company history was the 1950 Garton Kidillac.
Wheel goods with metal bodies became the company’s specialty through the decades after 1920. The steel body wagon arrived in 1929. Within the toy trade, the color of those much-loved coaster wagons and tricycles was known simply as “Garton Red.”
Disaster struck the company again on May 31, 1929, when the largest fire in the city of Sheboygan’s history consumed Garton Toy for a second time. The Sheboygan Press deemed it “the day the city went wild.”
But, all good things must come to an end. The introduction of plastics to the toy industry and increased government regulation led to Garton’s demise. Sale of the company to a finance and investment organization based in Milwaukee was announced in 1973. The Garton Toy Factory, pictured below, is now an apartment building.
EVOLUTION OF THE ‘IRISH MAIL’
Observing the adverts below, you can see that the early ‘Irish Mail’ pedal cars had wire wheels and solid tyres. By the thirties some were fitted with disc wheels. By the late thirties, the more expensive varieties has metal bodywork, often streamlined in style. Nevertheless, despite such advances in design, older, simpler original styles of Irish Mail were still made and sold. Kids might observe the latest trends in pedal car advertised in their comics. But parents and grandparents were, of course, the buyers of children’s toys, and they often preferred the styles that were prevalent in their own childhood.
Compare this Speedster with one of its ancestors, the 1921 Irish Mail Hand Car, below
Garton Toy Co info thanks to – http://www.sheboyganpress.com/story/news/local/2014/12/19/sheboygan-history-column/20668511/