Turn it upside down and make an ice cream machine rumble, rumble, rumble
Louis Marx toys introduced the Big Wheel at the New York toy fair in 1969. The inventor, a close friend of Marx, was Ray Lohr of Erie, PA. The molded plastic tricycle had a red frame, adjustable blue seat and pull lever brake on the right rear wheel, yellow handlebars and fork, and black tires. The frame had six holes (two parallel lines of three) in the rear, where the seat could be slotted in. The back tires were wide and thick, attached to a metal axle that ran under the rear of the frame. The front wheel was 16 inches in diameter with treads, steered directly by maneuvering the handlebars. The front axle was the crank of the machine, propelled by pedaling. The Big Wheel was a huge hit and is still one of the most recognizable brand names today. Production was easy, as the slip molding of the parts could be manufactured quickly and at minimal expense.
Marx toy company was one of the biggest toy manufacturers from 1919-1980, they were well known for their action figure play sets, wind-up tin toys, Rock em’ Sock ‘em Robots among numerous others.
The history of the Big Wheel is a cluttered one. The popularity was overwhelming, especially after the Consumer Safety Commission issued a report that the Big Wheel was safer than a traditional tricycle. The first capitalist to compete was Carolina Enterprises who introduced the Hot Cycle in 1972, which was the same year that Marx sold the company to Quaker Oats. The basic design was the same, but the seat was a U shaped saddle and nonadjustable. Ever improving, Marx came out with the Green Machine, a monstrosity that could be manipulated to spin out effortlessly. The rear wheels were hinged to move with the motion of the rider.
In the mid-seventies, the companies merged. They sold the rights of the Big Wheel design to their new company, Empire at auction. Empire retained the rights but sold the design to Playskool (Coleco and Hasbro) in 1985. Playskool built the Power Cycle and outfitted it with decals of popular television shows like Chips, Night Rider and The Dukes of Hazard. Empire countered with a girls line featuring Rainbow Bright. Many feature cycles followed, Spiderman, Muppet themed, Smurfs etc.
Playskool stopped production in 1997. Empire made the cycle until 2001. Production ceased until 2003 when a new company, Alpha International of Cedar Rapids, IA reintroduced the original Big Wheel. A new Spongebob and Clifford the Big Red Dog models are available now.
One of the major flaws of the Big Wheel is that plastic, under duress, wears and cracks. A popular remedy for front tire repair was to place a rubber bicycle tire over the plastic mold. The Big Wheel was often used for crash up derby and was a tremendous daredevil machine. It was the king of the sidewalk.