Nearly every child in America grows up surrounded by Hot Wheels, Big Wheels, and a variety of toy cars and trucks. There’s something about cars that makes things that are transportation-related a natural choice for gifts for kids.
Kids can spend hours zooming little metal cars across the floor – which is probably the reason that there is such a wide range of miniature vehicles available for children of all ages.
You may remember the Big Wheel from your own childhood. This plastic tricycle, with one large wheel and two smaller ones, was introduced by the Marx toy company in 1969, and was wildly popular throughout the 1970s. Known for its low cost and because its design positioned riders closer to the ground, which was said to be a safer alternative to traditional trikes or bicycles, its iconic shape has made an appearance in a number of movies, including The Shining. The Big Wheel lasted until the 1980s. It has recently made a comeback; since 2003 the Big Wheel has again been available on store shelves.
At the same time as the Big Wheel tricycle was becoming popular, both Matchbox and Hot Wheel cars were coming into vogue. These small diecast metal cars, often based on real car designs, have wheels that turn and colorful paint jobs, making them perfect for kids. Matchbox cars were introduced by Lesney in 1953, while Hot Wheels, their Mattel-owned main competitor, began production in 1968.
Pedal cars predate these versions of transportation toys by about 100 years. The very first pedal cars were handmade wooden toys created at the end of the 1800s, as real cars were first introduced. In both the 1930s and the 1950s, metal-bodied versions became quite popular. Modeled after the real cars then seen on the roads, these toys allow children to “drive” the sidewalks, just like an adult in a real car. Like Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, this iconic toy remains popular today, both with a new generation of children and with adult collectors.
Trains and model train sets have also been popular toys for both children and adult collectors. Like the creation of pedal cars, the idea of model trains took off nearly as soon as the first real trains began to operate. Throughout the years, incarnations of this idea have varied in degree of intricacy from Thomas the Train for preschoolers through highly detailed model trains created to the exact specifications of a real train. Names like Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx are synonymous with the toy trains that collectors covet. Besides the adult collector market, such toy trains have also become staples in the toyboxes of countless children, with tracks allowing kids to use their imagination to create their own train set-ups.
Whether you’re a collector, you remember playing with toy cars as a child, or your own child’s toybox is filled with these toys, you undoubtedly realize that transportation toys are a huge part of the American childhood, and one that’s likely to persist for many more generations.
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