Child’s Tricycle

Place of origin unknown, ca. 1870–1900
Inv. 1971.232.

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As the bicycle developed in the 19th century, so too did two- and three-wheeled vehicles for children. This child’s tricycle from a house on Gartenstrasse in Basel is a pedal-driven tricycle. The wheels have solid rubber tires and the steel spokes are arranged tangentially, as is typical of bicycles developed in the 1870s or later. The tricycle can therefore be dated to the last third of the 19th century.
The velocipede of the 1860s was the first bicycle to be equipped with pedals. This type of bicycle still had no transmission, however, and the pedals turned with the front wheel. The saddle therefore had to be mounted near the front so that the feet could reach the pedals. To maximize speed, the front wheel was generally larger than the rear wheel. In the 1870s this gave rise to the penny-farthing with its huge front wheel and tiny rear wheel. The dangers of riding such a conveyance led to the development of a new “safety bicycle” with a chain drive. Thanks to this innovation, the two wheels could be the same size and the saddle positioned closer to the middle, improving overall stability. While the chain drive soon became standard on bicycles for adults built after 1880, children’s tricycles have retained their front-wheel pedals to this day.

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