Americas affluence, success with mass production, rich oil reserves, and growing network of paved roads all helped to make it a nation of drivers. Owning a car conferred social status on its owner and gave many drivers a sense of autonomy and freedom. Many Americans desired cars, but the economic and cultural realities of the early 1900s often restricted automobility to wealthy and middle-class families.
Toy truck from Sears, Roebuck and Company
Car Owners: The Next Generation
Almost as soon as the first automobile took to the roads, American children played with car toys, read car books, and even learned how combustion engines worked. Making cars a part of kids liveseven kids whose families didnt own carshelped make automobile ownership appealing to future generations of car buyers. Because much of this material targeted boys, it helped shape a society in which women were far less likely to own and drive a car.
Kirk-Latty pedal car, 1917
Pedal cars let young drivers operate a vehicle. This early pedal car would have been too expensive for most families, but its attention to detail and its attempts to mimic "real" cars are typical of early auto toys.
Marketing to Children
Advertisers assumed that boys had a great interest in, and a significant influence over, their fathers choice of car. In ads like these, car companies tried to manufacture enthusiasm among boys to create a bigger market for automobiles. Not all motor-related images and advertising excluded girlsas the Briggs-Stratton scooter ad showsbut most downplayed girls interest in motor vehicles, or left them out of the picture completely.
Ad for The American Boy, 1917
Ad from The American Boy, 1915
Ad for Briggs-Stratton motor scooter, about 1915
Toy cars appeared almost immediately after the automobile was invented, along with popular fiction and books that explained how engines worked. Auto-related childrens book series began to appear in the 1900s. In these moralistic stories, affluent good boys and girls had adventures with their cars. While the characters in these early tales tended to follow conventional gender roles, the Motor Maids were both drivers and mechanics. In the 1900s, American children could buy a range of automobile toys. The earliest toy cars reflected the primitive state of the real thing. As cars became close-bodied in the 1920s and streamlined in the 1930s, so did their miniature counterparts. Companies also made trucks, buses, taxis, and road-building toys, reflecting what children might see on the streets.
A Boys Text Book on Gas Engines, by Fay Leone Faurote, 1908
Ad from The American Boy, 1918
Cover, Town & Country, August 1909
The Motor Boys, by Clarence Young, 1906
The Motor Maids Across the Continent, by Katherine Stokes, 1911