1890s Tiller & Treadle Children’s Velocipede Tricycle
12″ Front Wheel
20″ Rear Wheels
This treadle-powered children’s tricycle has 24″ rear wheels and an overall length of 44″. First viewing suggests a relatively primitive design, but closer inspection reveals well-made joints and castings …and also rear suspension.
This style of children’s tricycle was manufactured from the 1860s until the 1920s. They were often bought for children by grandparents nostalgic about their own childhood. Early examples such as this are easily identified because they had metal rims without tyres; after 1900 rubber tyres were an option.
This 130-year-old machine is from America. I bought it from a friend who found it in a local estate sale. It’s in sound, complete condition except for one missing grip. It has fittings that would accept a ‘surrey’ roof to fit over the seat.
VELOCIPEDE TRICYCLE HISTORY
The first velocipede tricycles with driving treadles and tiller steering appear to have been made around 1851. (See the photo above 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 above 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, such as the one featured here, were mostly made by small manufacturers. They were expensive items in their day, purchased by rich families for their children. Early examples used wooden hubs and parts but, by the 1880s, they were made of steel, with cast iron fittings.
The early models had metal wheel rims that did not take a tyre, while later ones were fitted with solid rubber tyres.
Later velocipede tricycles often had headbadges; popular manufacturers of 1890s-1910s machines were Gendron, Fay, and Kirk. But nearly all the early ones have no makers names, having been sold through catalogues, early department stores in the main cities, and local shops throughout the country.
As you can see from the Gendron advert above, and the 1922 Fairy advert below, tiller tricycles were marketed at girls, while front-driver tricycles were aimed at boys.
BICYCLE v TRICYCLE
Until the advent of the safety bicycle – the first successful ‘rear-driver’ with central pedals was the Premier crossframe in 1886 – women drove tricycles while men rode, first, ‘boneshaker’ velocipedes (above) followed by ordinaries, below. This was a reflection of both the athletic prowess required to ride early bicycles and also conservative dress code of the day: tricycles allowed women to ride with modesty.