For many people, scooters are a novelty, but they do have a rich history that spans over 100 years, and we have prepared all the fascinating facts for you in our informative article below. If you have the time, you may also check some of our other articles where we looked at some of the best electric scooters on the market that you can purchase right now.
The predecessors of scooters
Motorcycles began to develop scooter-like traits in the early 1900s. It was in 1894 that Hildebrand & Wolfmüller located in Munich, Germany started to produce the very first motorcycle that was available for purchase. The motorcycle that they produced had a step-through frame, with its fuel tank mounted on the down tube.
It was the first two-wheel vehicle to be mass-produced and sold, and the first to be powered mainly by its engine instead of relying on foot pedals. The maximum speed that this vehicle could achieve was 40 km/h (25mph).
Unfortunately, due to the high price and technical difficulties of building this motorcycle, only a few hundred models were built. This spelled financial failure for Hildebrand & Wolfmüller. The vehicle only produced 2.5 horsepower, and while some acknowledge it as the first motorcycle, most view it to this day as the first scooter thanks to its step-through design.
Then, Auto-Fauteuil in France introduced their motorcycle in 1902 that featured a similar step-through design with an armchair instead or the traditional saddle. This model looked more like a car with two wheels than a motorcycle.
The production of the French motorcycle continued until 1922, and both it and its German counterpart are considered to be the predecessors of scooters thanks to their design and features that helped dictate the look and functionality of traditional scooters.
The US also had a similar vehicle produced known as the Autoped that ended up being licensed to be built in Czechoslovakia and Germany as well. The Autoped looked very much like the ‘stand up and ride’ scooters that children like to use nowadays.
The first generation
The Moped is considered to be the first motor scooter and it entered production in 1915. It was followed by the Autoped which was made in Long Island, New York, and production for it spanned from 1915 to 1921. It was also made under license in Germany by Krupp from 1919 to 1922.
After World War I, the number of scooter manufactures and the designs that they employed started to increase significantly. In 1919, the British-built ABX Skootamota incorporated a seat into the two-wheel design for the first time. The first bike that we could identify as very similar to today’s models was the 1921 Unibus.
The Unibus also came with additional features that were not seen at that time in other two-wheeled vehicles such as protective bodyworks and leg shields that helped increase the comfort of the rider.
Other notable mentions include the Kenilworth which stood out due to its electric lights and the Reynolds Runabout which came with advanced specifications such as leg shields, a two-speed gearbox, coil springs, and front suspension. Both these models debuted in 1919.
The first generation of scooters did not manage to leave a lasting impact on consumers since the models were quite unstable, and the Unibus and the Reynolds Runabout were quite expensive. Most people couldn’t even dream to afford them. The first generation ended in the mid-1920s.
The second generation
The period between 1936 and 1968 marks the start and end of the second generation. In 1936, Salsbury Motor Glide which at that time was a division of Northrop Aircraft developed a scooter that had a seat positioned directly above an enclosed drivetrain. In 1938, the same company introduced a far more powerful scooter that featured a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
It was the first time that CVT was used on a scooter, and it soon became such a success that the company started to license the design to European manufacturers, including the famous scooter manufacturer Piaggio.
Salsbury Motor Glide continued to set the standards for all later models, and it inspired the production of motor scooters by Rock-Ola, Powel, Cushman, Moto-scoot, and others. Motor Glide produced its last scooter 1948.
During the 1930s, the US saw some Buck Rogers and art deco-inspired machines such as the Rock-Ola. This vehicle was made by the company of the same name which was widely known for making jukeboxes.
It was also around this time that the Moto-scoot turned into the scooter of choice for most Americans. In the next years, brands such as Powell, Cushman, and Salsbury continued to emerge and produce new scooters even after World War II.
Third generation and beyond
In Italy, after World War II, the Piaggio Vespa soon became the standard for scooters, and it continued to remain so from the mid-1940s until today. The vehicle was patented in April 1946 and it used aircraft design and materials. Wartime aircraft manufacturers were forbidden from making more aircraft after WWII, and they had to produce other products to stay in business.
In Germany, the aviation industry was dismantled as well after WWII, and manufacturers such as Messerschmitt and Hoffman used the Vespa license when manufacturing scooters. The United Kingdom, US, and the Eastern Bloc soon followed suit and used the design of the Vespa for their scooters.
The scooter renaissance of the ‘90s
It was in the 1990s that the scooter saw once again a big resurgence in popularity. Vespa launched the ET4 125cc model in 1996 and this new generation of Vespa featured a four-stroke engine, and it was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the company.
While this new generation came with new features and increased performance, the design retained its classic look that harked back to the company’s heyday of the 50s and 60s. The new model soon became the best-selling two-wheeled vehicle in Europe of both 1997 and 1998 respectively.
The retro design, in particular, was very popular with city commuters. Another reason which led to the rise in popularity of scooters in the 90s was the close connection of the vehicle with Britpop.
Famous bands such as Oasis and Stone Roses used retro scooters on the cover of their albums and many were photographed on retro scooters frequently enough for the fans to notice.
While the classic scooter remains the most popular choice to this day, trends around the world have not stopped new developments of the classic scooter from appearing. High-end models now feature comprehensive technological features, engines with integral counterbalancing, cast aluminum frames, and cross-linked brake systems.
There is also the three-wheeled scooter which was first made during World War II by Cushman and that uses a total of three wheels and a large storage bin present between the front two wheels.
The maxi-scooter, also known as a touring scooter, is a large two-wheel vehicle with engines that range from 250 to 850 cc and it uses a frame that is far larger than that of a normal scooter.
Finally, in recent years, the electric scooter has been rising in popularity and it is very similar to the classic models of the past with the main difference being that it uses electric batteries as the power source.