Filled with excitement and anticipation, you hurry down the stairs and into the living room. Colorful packages trimmed with ribbon await you under the beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Like a lion on the hunt, you snatch a gift from the pile and feverishly tear off the paper to find the very RC car you had been begging your parents for all year. Raising your new trophy toward the sky, you shout with joy!
What child wouldn’t want an RC car for Christmas? In a world driven by technology, it’s difficult to imagine little boys and girls without at least one battery operated toy in their arsenal. Interestingly enough, battery operated toys have been around far longer than you might think. In fact, one of the earliest battery operated toy automobiles was released before the end of the 19th century.
In 1899, the Knapp Electric Novelty Company (New York City) released its first battery operated toy automobile, which was 10 inches long and made of pressed steel. At $3.50 ($90.49 in today’s currency, factoring in inflation), they were relatively expensive and geared toward children of more affluent families. As a relatively small company, Knapp left the distribution of their product to Carlisle and Finch Co., which had made a name for themselves selling the world’s first electric toy trains in 1896.
While an ad from 1899 labeled the toy as “safe, practical [and] durable,” Knapp’s toy seems rather dangerous for a child by today’s standards. It was powered by a wet cell battery concealed underneath the “seat,” which was activated by water and allowed the car to run for up to an hour. In 1903, Knapp improved their design by incorporating safer dry cell batteries.
Another safety issue was that the car’s motor and gears were completely exposed. This, however, was to serve an educational function, as the toys were marketed as the “most amusing and instructive articles ever invented.” In effect, the idea was that little boys would gain mechanical knowledge as they watched how the gears propelled their vehicle forward.
Are you interested in collecting toy cars? Whether you fancy diecasts, wind-ups or battery operated models, the library has a nice collection of reference books covering the subject-matter, as well a small collection of period advertisements. We also have an extensive collection of Antique Toy World Magazine, covering 1972 through the present. Here at the library, there’s something for everyone!
Note: If you’re looking for the perfect gift for your favorite automobile enthusiast this holiday season, the AACA Library offers a wide selection of books through
AbeBooks.com. We also have several Crestline books, car badges and other little trinkets up for auction through eBay. These auctions will end on the evening of Wednesday, December 28th, so be sure to bid early. All proceeds will go toward supporting the AACA Library and Research Center. Auction link available here.