Invention of the Tricycle

Appreciate the power of the pedal by learning about the history of the tricycle during National Bike Month.

By Bethany Stagliano


Red tricycle

We know the tricycle as a three-wheeled bike designed to maintain stability that consists of one rubber wheel in front, and two rubber wheels in back. Tricycles are usually ridden by young children who cannot yet master a two-wheeled bike. However, the very early tricycle was actually a horse-drawn carriage that could typically seat two people. This carriage then evolved into a hand-pedaled tricycle, and then a tricycle powered by steam. Nowadays, we see tricycles powered by gas or electricity, allowing them to move faster than our forefathers ever thought they could!

In the 1860s, bicycles were a popular form of transportation as well as vehicles for leisure activities. However, many safety concerns arose, which led to the development of a third wheel. We now refer to this new bicycle as a tricycle. In the beginning, most tricycles were only for adults. Children rode homemade tricycles usually made out of wood, typically wood from goat carts. These wooden trikes gained popularity, and over time, steel-framed tricycles were developed. By 1900, most children rode steel tricycles. However, throughout the 1900s, different forms of tricycles emerged. From Art Deco to Space Age designs, tricycles took on a variety of appearances.

Incorporate Tricycle History 

  • Pupils can compare and contrast the modern day tricycle to a horse-drawn carriage.
  • Have learners research the different tricycles in history, and then create a timeline.
  • Can your pupils imagine a world where cars did not exist, and people only got around on bikes and trikes? Have them write a story of what life may have been like.
  • Learn about the art deco and space age crazes during the 1930s and 1940s. Have kids design their own trike with an art deco or space age design.
  • Hold a class discussion about the kinds of tricycle each person had during his/her childhood. Add perspective by talking about the kind of tricycle you (the teacher) had as a child.
  • Ask individuals or small groups to research the different types of tricycles. 

Teach About Special Needs 

Most children have encountered someone with special needs. Further your pupils’ knowledge about the needs of these children (such as those with cerebral palsy) by introducing your class to therapeutic tricycles built specifically for children who cannot ride typical trikes.

Get Kids Involved! 

Around the country, various organizations sponsor trike races to raise funds for important causes. For example, New York’s Long Island Hospital has a tricycle run every year to raise money for the patients and families in their children's hospital. Patients who are healthy enough get a chance to ride too! The fun part of this event is that everyone, adults included, rides trikes! It would be fun to sponsor a tricycle race at your school to raise money for a charity or school event.

It Only Takes One Thought 

Use your tricycle lesson to encourage your learners that one person's idea can bring centuries of enjoyment and fun! Foster the idea that they can be that person who decides to build a riding toy out of a goat cart! As individuals or in groups, have pupils invent some kind of toy or vehicle that would be fun for children or teenagers. Encourage creativity. At the end of the project, have the “inventors” present their latest idea (it can be a drawing; they do not have to actually make it). It will be a fun, creative learning experience!

Related Lessons:

Sesame Street and Tricycles 

Elmo, Big Bird, and other characters teach about riding bikes and trikes, and the importance of exercising.

Math Challenge

Bike and Trikes are used in math word problems. A creative way to slip some extra math practice into your tricycle history lesson.