Tricycles


Figure 1.--Bicylicling had by the 1880s and the invention of the saftey bike become a popular family activity. This family has outfitted all of the family with bikes, even the boy still wearing a Fauntleroy dress and curls. I wonder if he didn't find it difficult riding his bike in that outfit. (Of course this photograph was taken in a studio, so we don't know he actually wore when riding his bike. Notice the girl in a smock-like dress who is in a kind of multi-wheeled bike. It was still not considered appropriate for girls to ride two-wheeled bicycles in the 1880s. It was even considered inappropriate for girls to ride tricycles.

Bikes were originally developed for adults. The early bicycles were difficult to ride and not considered suitable for women or children. They were also much to expensive for the average child. As a result tricycles were developed, initially for the ladies. There were different types of tikes, but the ones with the pedal drive arragemeng became the standard type. Soon they became popular for children. Interestingly, they appear to have been considered only suitable for boys at first. Photoggraphs of girls on early trikes are very rare. Also initially quite old boys rode them, much older boys than is the case today.

Origins

The tricycles origins are found in the development of the bicycle.

Original model

The model for the tricycle is clearly the velocipede or 'penny-farthing'--partly involving the constructive addition of a stabilizing cross-axle with two wheels instead of one. A pennyfarthing that can't fall down! The basic design problem of the tricycle was thus to all intents and purposes already solved once and for all as soon as it had been invented. The further course of its design history exhibits a fixed basic constructional principle with changes in construction details, the choice of materials and the formal idiom, all of which follow general tendencies in design history.

The end of the velocipede (1862)

The distinctive feature of this design history, which at first sight seems rather conformist and uninteresting, is clearer when we observe its difference from the design history of the adult cycle. We all know that the velocipede has long since had its day. 'A curiosity in the history of transport', and 'an evolutionary dead end', is I suppose the most common way of assessing its status from the safe haven of hindsight. The invention of the velocipede is attributed to the Frenchman Lallemand and is dated to 1862--the same year as Little Lisa's Day appeared for the first time in France. The velocipede became widespread in the course of the 1870s. It was to serve very little as a true means of transport, and mainly functioned as something for the exercise and amusement of the more prosperous classes.

The bicycle (1876)

In 1876 the first example of what we understand today as a bicycle was constructed--with an equally large front and rear wheel, a chain drive and gears for the rear wheel. From 1885 on it was manufactured in large numbers as a 'safety cycle' and was subsequently quickly refined with a number of technological, production-intensive and capital-intensive functional additions: pneumatic tyres, a freewheeling mechanism, rim and hub brakes etc. The convincing performance and manoeuvring advantages of the safety cycle meant that the velocipede was completely sidelined as anything but a curiosity. The safety cycle was the only realistic choice as a pedal-powered vehicle for safe, flexible, cheap mass transport to and from work.

Design

The basic design of a tricycle is very standard. As a type the tricycle has the distinctive feature which quite simply gives it its name--it has three wheels. There is a large wheel in front and a pair of smaller ones at the back. The large wheel in front was used for steering and drive and two wheels in back for stability. Erly trikes might have theee wheels ofvte same size, but gradually the convention of two smaller rear wheels was adopted. The large front wheel serves both for the manouvering and propulsion of the cycle. Manoeuvring is possible by connecting the handlebars through a shaft and front fork to an axle. The smaller rear wheels procide stability. The sizes of the wheels have varied over time. Early trikes tended to have rather large wheels. Initially there were two types of trikes. . The Fairy Trycle had a hand pumping actoin for propulsion. Eventually the pedal bikes became standardized. It had the advantage tat a person could stear with his hand and propel the trike with is feet through direct pedal power. The Firy trike, however, had some afvantage for use wih handicpped individuals. Many mechanical inovations now associated with the automobile were originally invented for tricycles. Rack and pinion steering, the differential, and band brakes, to name a few! The type of tricycle is determined by the modern pre-schooler's proportions and motor skills. Frame, saddle, handlebars, pedals, pedal arms and their relative positions are dimensioned to suit the child, and the diagonally positioned rear wheel set stabilizes the bike and makes balancing superfluous: the cycle is easy to get on and off, and is suitable for riding in fits and starts with frequent turns.

Adult Utlization

Trikes were first developed for the ladies. We note, however, a rather small numbers of ladies in the photogrphic record using them. The trike soon they became primarily a children's vehicle. Because of the three wheels, trikes were much more stable than bikes and thus idea for younger children. Until after World War I (1914-18) they seem primarily used by boys.

The ladies

Not only were bikes difficult to ride, but their voluminous skirts made it almost impossible for even a skilled cycilist. Bloomers which had been invented in the 1850s by Amelia Bloomer were still considered somewhat risque or even rediculous. Some women, however, turned to them. Other women preferred the trycicle. While the men were risking their necks on the high wheels, ladies, confined to their long skirts and corsets, could take a spin around the park on an adult tricycle.

Dignified men

These machines also afforded more dignity to gentlemen such as doctors and clergymen. There seem to have been, however, only small numbers used by adult men.


Figure 2.--Parents by the 1880s were buying tricycles for their younger children. The large size of the front wheel suggests that this photograph was taken in the 1880s. Note the elaborate blose and ruffled collar worn by this boy. He is unlikely to have worn it when actually riding his trike.

Children

The tricycle for children is unlikely ever to have been thought of as a vehicle for useful transport. After all, a child on a trike can not go very far, nor do his parents want him to. This is a banal observation which is nevertheless of great importance for the identification of the special features of the design challenge posed historically by the tricycle over time. The characteristics that have gradually become more and more salient in the transport design of the adult world are quite absent. The tricycle is thus in a certain sense a relic from a phase of product and consumer culture that has long since gone. The velocipede has almost defiantly lived on in the child's universe of things in a scaled-down and slightly rearranged form. The simple constructive pattern without gears, brakes, freewheeling mechanism and with fewer, simpler axles makes for a cheaper product, in keeping with what people are willing to spend on a children's product that serves no utility function. At the beginning of the 1890s one regularly began seeing tricycles in manufacturers' sales catalogues in Europe and America. They were often sold in different sizes and were available with iron-bound wooden rims or in a more expensive version with rubber tires. The eraly tricycles are a good, clear example of the downscaling and reorganization that made the velocipede, and thus the modern pedal-powered form of riding, available to the child.

Design task

The tricycle for children is unlikely ever to have been thought of as a vehicle for useful transport. After all, a child on a trike can not go very far, nor do his parents want him to. This is a banal observation which is nevertheless of great importance for the identification of the special features of the design challenge posed historically by the tricycle over time. The characteristics that have gradually become more and more salient in the transport design of the adult world are quite absent. Modern transport design is typified by a powerful dynamism. The design task thus typically takes the form of differentiation from previous or competing products and of emphasizing the qualities of the product in terms of transporting people as quickly, as flexibly and as comfortably as possible, or in some characteristic way, from one location to anoter. This means the constant introduction of new features and form variations with a view to ensuring the survival of the manufacturer in a highly competitive market through the development of the functional and symbolic features of the product. As a children's vehicle the tricycle creates and meets radically different needs from the vehicles of the adult world. It performs its task both as a product and as a utility object if it permits the child to ride and experience the joy of riding or in some way can serve as a point of departure or an element in the child's game. The parameters that determine the dynamics of modern transport design are thus invalidated in the design task posed by the tricycle. In principle it has a quite different starting point and purpose, and the design history of the tricycle proves in fact to be typified by autonomy.

A children's vehicle

The tricycle is thus in a certain sense a relic from a phase of product and consumer culture that has long since gone. The velocipede has almost defiantly lived on in the child's universe of things in a scaled-down and slightly rearranged form. The simple constructive pattern without gears, brakes, freewheeling mechanism and with fewer, simpler axles makes for a cheaper product, in keeping with what people are willing to spend on a children's product that serves no utility function. Innovations related to faster, more comfortable transport, greater radius of action and driving safety have not been relevant design motivations and this has resulted in the formal stability of the tricycle. The principal use of the trike, however, proved to be for younger children, not yet able to master the skills required for cycling. Trikes were also much safer. Until the saftey bikes were developed with efficent beaking systems, bikes were dangerous for adults to ride, let along children.

Children's vehicle to toy--three products

At the beginning of the 1890s one regularly began seeing tricycles in manufacturers' sales catalogues in Europe and America. They were often sold in different sizes and were available with iron-bound wooden rims or in a more expensive version with rubber tires. The eraly tricycles are a good, clear example of the downscaling and reorganization that made the velocipede, and thus the modern pedal-powered form of riding, available to the child. Simple downscaling had for centuries, perhaps always, been the design strategy when things were to be brought down to child's height. In the course of the 19th century, however, a new tendency emerged. The new view of childhood as a special period of life in its own right, and thus with its own needs and claims to special surroundings, also left its traces on the things for children, which now differed not only in size, but also in form. An example of this differentiation is the child's tea set which was developed with its own animal universe of rabbits, ducklings and teddy-bears. This tendency had no effect on early tricycles. This was because the product field from which they were derived--the new transport functions in the public sphere which technological development and industrialization had made possible and necessary - was still typified by technically and constructively oriented product design. By contrast, the design strategy in product categories for the furnishing of the home focused on the form of things. Fierce competition made product differentiation a commercial necessity, and things like cutlery and glass were produced in a wealth of forms and an even greater variety of decorative versions. The design strategy behind 'Sigfred' thus coincided with the corresponding design in the adult world and quite simply resulted in a children's vehicle.

Chronology

HBC does not have sufficent information on just when the tricycle appeared. We have found quite a few portraits of boys with bicycles , but most are undated. Judging from the photographic record, it appears to have been the 1880s but we see more in the 1890s. A good example is Frank Deeds in 1895. Notice the metal wheels and peddals and the gull wing shaped handle bars. The phptographic record may be misleading. The trikes pictured are presumably studio props. The actual number boys really had at home was probably more limited. The photographic archive we are building. This will provide a good record of the evolution of the tricycle over time. American boy, Ivan Eugene Perry is pictured woth a trike in a studio portrait during 1906-07. We note an American boy, Mitchel Murphy, riding his trike in the Bronx during 1912. It still looks to have metal wheels. I can confirm that I had a wonderful red and white trike in 1948. It was a solid metal trike with rubber wheels, none of this plastic stuff. It was my pride and joy.

Late 19th century

Many of the earliest tricycles had giant wheels like some early bikes. An early example archived on HBC is an unidentifed American boy, we think in the 1870s. As the trike became increasingly seen as a child's bike, the size of the wheels was reduced. In the late 19th cebntury, only very affluent families could afford them to children.

Early 20th century


Mid-20th century

Red trikes were all the rage by the 1930s, rather like the little red wagons. The tricycle played prominent role in post-war childhood. It appears as a matter of course in the general picture of the good childhood. And it is a natural choice of product when the exhibition is to be realized. Many people can show a picture of themselves or their children on a tricycle. Others can talk about an experience where it is a central prop, along the lines of "the time we fooled our little sister into riding down the basement stairs" or "we let the carrier hang and scrape over the paving stones until an adult came rushing up" etc.

Late 20th century

Companies in the late 20th century asked parebnrs, "Are you tired of the same old boring red tricyles roaming your sidewalks? Do you want your kid to have a nifty set of three wheels? Well, we've got the solution to making your kid stand out on the block and be the talk of the neighborhood. Aaron's Tricycles will create any size, any style tricyle for your kid. Aaron's Tricyles has been in the tricycle business for over 75 years. We will custom design any tricyle of your choice. BIG or small , we have them all. Choose from a rainbow of colors and patterns -- we have everything from pink polka-dotted to funky floral trikes. If there's something you want, don't hesitate to ask. We can do it. And with every tricycle you order, you get a free matching helmet to keep your kid safe." New colors appeared like: Autumn Leaves, Blueberry Pie, Plutonium Pizza, Sunspot Tongue, and Glacier Ice.

Gender

HBC notes that almost all early photographs of tricycles show boys riding them. This is especially true in the 19th century ans still generally true for the early 20th century before World War II. This is of special interest because it is often difficult to identify gender in earoy photographs because so many younger boys were often dressed in skirted garments. Thus this can bre used to help identify the children. It is not, however, a foolproof indicator as we have noted a few portraits of children who are clearly girls riding tricycles. Girls riding tricycles do not begin to become common until the 1920s. This is just an initial assessment, but based on observations of a substantial number of available photographs.

Age

Older photographs of boys on trucycles often show older boys than today commonly associated with trikes. This is in part because that until the invention of the saftey bike that bikes were rather dangerous for children. Children now ride trikes until about 5 years of age. In the late 19th century you might see boys of 10 years or more riding trikes.

Clothing

HBC has noted boys on trikes wearing a wide variety of clothes. HBC has not noted boys in dresses riding trikes, but numerous photographs shows boys in kilt suits and Fauntleroy kilts and suits riding trikes. Shoirt hair cuts are the most common, but some of these boys also have ringlet curls in America and long uncurled hair in France. A wide variety of other styles have been noted such as Fauntleroy suits, tunics, and sailor suits. Given the popularity of sailor suits, we are somewhat suprised that boys wearing sailor suits are not more common in the early portraits. Boys mostly wear knee pants, knickers, rompers, and short pants with trikes. Almost all boys wear dark long stockings in early portraits with trikes. Boys rarely wore long pants with trikes, although boys by the 1940s might wear long pants styles like coveralls with trikes.

Countries

We have begun to build some country information on tricycles. Note boys throughout Europe and North America riding trikes beginning in the late-19th century. They seems especially popular im America, refevting higher american wages and incomes. We have just begun to index HBC images here by country. We note a American boy photographed by a noted German photographer about 1900. The same photographer provides us anothr photograph of an American boy on a trike at about the same period. They were not as common in other countries as in America, but we see them in several European countries: England, France, and Germany. Trikes outside of America seem most common in Britain and Germany, but we see them in many other countries as well. The prevalence of tricycles like bikes seems to be a general reflection of living standards. Rather like hobby horses for younger children, they were most common among countries with high living standards.






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Created: September 2, 1998
Last updated: 5:44 AM 2/13/2017