Now, an exhibition at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Connecticut is retracing the 70-year-long history of the pint-sized cars, featuring a stunning display of pedal cars produced from around 1900 to the late 1960s. More than just toys, the cute little cars mirror adult cars in gleaming chrome.
"I think pedal cars -- for both children or adults -- are the stuff that dreams are made of," museum curator Rosa Portell says. "They are the car you wish you had, the car you want to have, the car that you will have."
Not only were pedal cars manufactured out of steel on an assembly line the same way the big cars were, but they were often the products of the very same big-name designers. General Motor's top designer, Harley Earl, famous for the fins on his Cadillacs, also designed the Kidillacs. Brooks Stevens, who streamlined countless real automobiles, also drew the sleek curves of many a famous pedal car.
The aerodynamic 1934 Chrysler Airflow turned out to be too modern for most grown-up car buyers of its time, but the pedal car version proved such a success it was even made into fire engines.
Along with automotive design, the pedal cars also reflected the concerns of society. During the 1930s, kids chased made-up gangsters in their G-Man Cruisers.
At the height of the Cold War, atomic missiles and hydraulic weapons carriers made the worries of the adult world less scary.
Today, some pedal cars are known to be selling at real car prices. Some hot rod enthusiasts even customize pedal cars, letting the imaginations run wild.
Mike "Gaytor" Gaydos has customized over 200 pedal cars.
"It reminds me of a time in life where things were a lot different. We weren't thinking about all of the wars and the things that grownups think about," Gaydos says. "You look at that little pedal car and you don't think about those things. You think about, 'Jeez, I remember riding down the hill at Underwoods and going as fast as I could in this little pedal car.'"
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