At a time when both actual automobiles and toy ones are made as cheaply as possible, it may be hard to believe that at one point there were child-sized vehicles made entirely out of metal — but there were, and the proof is on display at the McLean County Museum of History‘s “Pedal Power!” exhibition.
These 47 child-sized autos from the Bruce Callis Pedal Car Collection are more than cool toys from a bygone era: they are “industrial works of art,” in the words of Curator Anthony Bowman, who conducted extensive research to prepare the exhibit and came to appreciate the “real creative endeavors” and the “true artists” behind the minis.
Bruce Callis was a longtime State Farm executive and auto enthusiast. He collected antique cars, and in 1988 he also started collecting pedal cars, partly because it was an activity he could share with his grandchildren. By the time he passed away in 1999, he had collected dozens of minis representing five decades of pedal car production from the 1920s through the 1970s.
His son, Kevin Callis, daughter, Kim Ready, and grandson, Michael Ready — who, as a child, helped Grandpa build and maintain the minis — decided to donate the collection to the museum, which he had supported in various ways during his life.
Bowman, the curator, had 53 pedal cars to choose from; the process involved sorting out duplicates and trying to cover design and manufacturing processes from all the represented decades. He and designer Susan Hartzold decided to pattern the exhibit after the way Bruce Callis displayed in his garage on metal racks and shelves.
After the exhibit closes, a few of the cars will become part of the museum’s permanent collection, while the rest will be sold, with the proceeds going to support the museum’s mission.
“Pedal Power!” is on view through March 20 at the McLean County Museum of History.