PETER GENDRON

PEDAL CAR PIONEER

   In 1865, when Peter Gendron left his father’s wagon-making company at the age of 21, the furthest thing from the young French-Canadian’s mind was to manufacture pedal cars. He left his Canadian home with his wife, and they moved to Toledo , Ohio .

  He found a job working as a pattern maker for the Toledo Novelty works, which was run by Russell Thayer. Peter stayed there for six years, and then for unknown reasons, left the company and moved with his wife to Detroit Michigan . There he went to work for the Detroit Safe Company. But apparently Gendron’s inventive mind did not limit itself to thoughts of bank vaults and safes. While he was in Detroit he conceived the idea of a lightweight wheel. An ingenious young man, he perfected a design and process for making lightweight wire wheels, much superior to the heavy, solid wheels of the time.

   After the wheel was perfected, he incorporated ball bearings into the hubs, to reduce the friction and wear as the wheels rotated on the axel. His invention needed some additional refinements, but he knew that he was truly on to something  big, so he returned to Toledo to work on modifying the wheel. In 1877, Peter and three associates began the large- scale manufacturing of lightweight wheels with ball bearings. The first vehicles to use the new Gendron wheel were velocipedes ( large adult tricycles of the 1800’s) and baby carriages. Sadly, the new company lacked sufficient capital to put the product on the market, and consequently the venture was a failure. Gendron’s firm was forced to close it’s doors.

GENDRON IRON WHEEL COMPANY

   Peter Gendron was a very persistent man though, and never gave up on his invention. Thus, the GENDRON IRON WHEEL COMPANY was incorporated three years later, in 1880-starting out small in a factory at 210 Summit St. in Toledo Ohio . Because of the strength and durability of Mr. Gendron’s wheel, the product was a success and firm grew rapidly. Gendron began designing and producing a variety of cycles and other wheeled vehicles. Within 3 short years the company had grown too large for the site on Summit Street , and a move became inevitable. A new site at the corner of Orange and Superior was purchased

   It was on this site that Peter Gendron built his very impressive four-story factory complex. In 1890, his dream was at last coming true. The capitol stock in his company increased $300,000.00 , and in a few short years, grew to $500,000.00. the firm leapt to the forefront of the growing bicycle industry of the day. By the turn of the new century, Toledo was known as “COVENTRY OF AMERICA”, after Coventry , England-then the center of the British bicycle industry. Gendron’s advertisements billed the Toledo plant as “ The world’s largest factory devoted to the making of children’s vehicles”. And make children’s vehicles they did-in huge numbers and startling varieties. During the 1900’s the company was producing bicycles, tricycles, rolling invalid chairs( ancestors of the modern day wheel chairs), go carts, baby carriages, coaster wagons, toy wheelbarrows, and other items.

  In the toy auto assembly plant, scores of Gendron employees crafted iron, steel, and wood into children’s pedal cars. The scene was remarkably similar to the assembly line of a full –size automaker of the day.

His pedal cars were sold under the name of PIONEER, becoming one of the most successful of the firm’s products. Before long, the name Pioneer and Gendron were known around the world, virtually synonymous with high quality pedal cars. Their workmanship was excellent and their detailing exceptional. Some of the features of the Gendron pedal car included: cylindrical rear gas tanks, tool boxes, imitation cranks ( for starting your car), and nickel trim. At the height of Gendron’s success, press reports noted “ Santa Claus has a tough job, but the Gendron Wheel Co., one of Toledo ’s largest manufacturing plants, irons out the wrinkles which make his task a thousand fold easier-the production of children’s vehicles.”

Old Gendron factories

   The pedal car’s heyday was not to last though. With it’s faded fortunes went the company itself. The firm relocated to Perrysville , Ohio in 1938, and it’s Toledo factory was abandoned. In 1940, Gendron-still known as the Gendron Wheel Co.-left the pedal car business and devoted it production exclusively to hospital equipment. By 1964 the co. was purchased by the Howe Sound Corporation of New York .

   Although the old Gendron factories and storage buildings have been torn down, and new buildings now stand in their place, the toys that made Peter Gendron famous still command a special place in the hearts of pedal car enthusiasts. Vintage Gendron vehicles are still being found in attics, basements, and at auctions, and their value continues to grow. If you are ever lucky enough to own a Gendron pedal car, you will understand the work and love that went into building this wonderful toy.

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