Classic Toys: The Big Wheel
America’s Favorite Ride-On Toy
The Big Wheel was first released in 1969 by Louis Marx & Co., an American toymaker that began manufacturing mechanical tin toys in 1919. The earliest ride-on toys had been made of metal and were powered by the child kicking their feet. Popular early designs included locomotives, cars and fire engines.
There were advancements in toy making in the early 1960s that made the creation of a ride-on like the Big Wheel possible. These included the ability to make larger molds and stronger plastics. 1969 saw the introduction of the Big Wheel; a low-slung tricycle made of plastic. It was powered with foot pedals and, to kids’ delight, was able to make exciting 360-degree spins when braking suddenly and pulling the wheel sharply. A national phenomenon, the Big Wheel became an instant success. It was one of the most popular ride-on toys in the 1970s and was declared by the Consumer Products Safety Commission to be much safer than traditional bike designs.
In 1972, another company called Carolina Enterprises introduced a similar tricycle called the Hot Cycle. In the late 1970s the two companies merged and formed Empire Industries. They continued to manufacture the very successful Big Wheel until 2001 when they closed. The rights to the Big Wheel were bought by Alpha International, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa that same year. In 2003 the Big Wheel was re-released with the original 1969 red, yellow and blue colors and design with updated safety specifications. It continued to be the ride-on favorite for children and has continued to be into the present.
The Big Wheel has also become part of our popular culture. In December 2003 Disney introduced the Pop Century Resort in Disneyworld, Florida, featuring icons of 20th century pop culture. Included in the resort is a 3-story tall replica of a Big Wheel. In over 40 years time, more than 40 million Big Wheels have been sold and continue to sell very well today. Online sites are filled with comments from parents who remember riding a Big Wheel, and want to share their experience with their kids. Of all the toys created by Marx, the Big Wheel is probably the first to come to mind and the easiest to recognize. Many of the Fortune 500 companies have requested permission to use the Big Wheel in their commercial campaigns, since it is so recognizable, but also because execs remember the fun of riding one themselves.
The Big Wheel is truly the “King of the Sidewalk” and doesn’t look as if it’s about to relinquish the title any time soon. In 2006 Alpha International released a pink and purple Princess Big Wheel designed specifically for girls and later released a toddler version.
Where you the king of your sidewalk when you were a kid?