Until the advent of the automobile, bicycles were predominantly for grownups, a means of practical and efficient transportation. When adults could drive, the change left bicycle manufacturers scrambling for a new market. They found one in children. After the 1920s, bikes became toys and transportation for those too young to power a car.
The First Bicycle
The concept of a bicycle was first introduced to kids in Germany in 1817. According to the “Washington Post,” they lined the road, amazed, as Karl Drais pushed his contraption along the street for the first time, using his feet to propel it because this first bicycle had wheels but no pedals. In a world where the only forms of transportation were horses and human feet, Drais’ invention was revolutionary.
Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward were the first manufacturers to jump on the idea of making bicycles for children after adults lost interest in pedaling their way from place to place. Production began after World War I, with Schwinn and Huffy making their contributions to the industry much later. Huffy designed its first bike specifically for children in 1949, complete with the first set of training wheels. By the 1950s, children’s bicycles had entered mass market production.
The first children’s bicycles mimicked some features of automobiles, and by the 1950s, designs replicated jets and rockets. Things calmed down for awhile in the '60s as bikes became more practical and streamlined; then, in 1969, Huffy introduced its Dragster with banana seats and high-rise handlebars. In 1995, Huffy entered into a licensing agreement with Warner Brothers to use images from cartoons such as Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Tank Engine on its kids’ bikes. In the late 20th century, children’s bikes became more safety-oriented with reflective decals and accessories and lighting.
Tricycles served adults before being manufactured for children. The idea of pedaling a large front wheel on a vehicle that had two stabilized rear wheels came about in the late 1860s. The first such vehicle was called a velocipede. With the change in the market to manufacture bicycles for children, the velocipede idea carried over into the production of tricycles. They were relatively large until the 1960s when children began riding two-wheelers at younger ages. Manufacturers modified and miniaturized them for use by toddlers, both in plastic for indoor use and steel for outdoors.