In ride-on toy history, few toys have made an impression on generations of kids quite like the pedal car and the Big Wheel. Both enjoyed decades of popularity, and indeed are available in their original form today for a new generation of children to enjoy.

Classic Ride-On Toys

Pedal cars were available in various forms nearly since the beginning of the automobile, but they really became popular in the 1930s through the 1960s, when steel pedal car styles closely mimicked actual car models. Unlike the Big Wheel, these popular toys were not highly stylized and imaginative, but designed to look as realistic as possible.

By the beginning of the 1970s, more ride on toys were being made in plastic than with the traditional all-steel construction. This unfortunate change meant that they were no longer as strong as they once were. When left in the sun, they often developed cracks in the brittle plastic. Many did not make it past one generation, and the pedal toy craze slowly died out during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Today, a brand new generation of all-metal pedal cars is being produced, many from the very same presses used to construct the classic pedal toy styles of decades ago. Since the late 1990s, most styles have been made in steel, not plastic. You can even find classic steel pedal toys in the most popular styles from the 1950s and 1960s heyday of pedal cars, including hot rods, fire trucks, pedal planes, and many other variations. These pedal toys are designed for children and adult collectors alike, and feature the bright paint and chrome detailing that made the original versions so popular.

Big wheels are another popular ride-on toy from the past. This style of tricycle, made of plastic, was known for its unusually large front wheel and low ride. The Big Wheel was introduced by the Louis Marx Company, maker of many other metal and plastic children’s toys, in 1969. It remained very popular during the 1970s, particularly because its plastic construction made it a much cheaper alternative to other ride-on toys, such as metal, that were then being produced. Its construction, which left the rider very low to the ground, was also said to be safer than the traditional tricycle style, bicycles, or other ride-on toys.

Although Big Wheel was technically a registered trademark of the Marx company, there were many imitators under dozens of brand names. In the early 1970s, Marx sold the name and molds for its Big Wheel to Empire Plastics, which had been Marx’s biggest competitors for the Big Wheel until that point with their Power Cycle brand. Today, the Big Wheel brand is still being offered, albeit under new ownership after Empire went bankrupt in 2001.

Today, both pedal cars and big wheels make a great gift for children. These classic toys are battery free, foot powered, and a great way for young kids to get exercise outside. Seeing your own child riding one of these toys around the neighborhood will bring a big smile to your face and remind you of your own childhood. Both of these classic styles are perfect Christmas gifts.


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