As early as the late nineteenth century, wheeled toys came in vogue for children. Bicycles were popularly used as a method to keep children healthy, and though they were considered an adult utility, many children from many different places started enjoying the mobility that the bicycles provided. In 1914, Henry Ford and his assembly line started making cars more affordable and more universal, and it was easy to see how children would be enchanted by these powerful and attractive machines.
Several toy companies were up to the challenge and they began outfitting small metal automobiles that were powered completely via leg-power. The "bodies" of these cars were hammered out of sheet metal, and wood was used for the chassis, while the wheels consisted of wooden rounds that were covered with hard rubber tires. Though most of these cars were made to look like generic automobiles, some lucky children could play with cars that were made to look like specific brands or models.
These toys also came with accessories that enhanced the play experience. Oil cans and tool boxes, complete with small tools that were made in imitation of real ones, were perfect for children who had a mechanical bent. They could even flip up the hood and find a lightweight radiator to fiddle with. The cars themselves could be sophisticated enough to have working turn signals and real leather upholstery.
With the advent of the second World War, many children became patriotically inclined and the cars morphed into tractors, jeeps and airplanes, allowing the children to once again imitate the actions of their elders. These were still high ticket items in some ways; a pedal car could be quite expensive for a family on the budget. By the fifties, with the war over and the veterans returned home, combined with the economic boom, pedal cars became a selling point for many new families, especially for ones that had felt the lean pinch of the war years.
The pedal car, much like the automobile itself has made itself at home in American history, and as you can see there are many reasons for this! Today, pedal cars come in plastic as well as metal, and they might as easily have a toy cell phone as a toy oil can, but as you can see, the fun remains the same.