Children like to copy their parents and learn new skills, and toys are often a scaled down version of 'the real thing.' Dolls' prams are essentially small copies of full-size prams. Toy prams have been around since Victorian times and the styles have changed to follow current pram fashions. Today children often put their dolls in toy pushchairs or buggies.
Prams have been around for thousands of years and there is evidence of the Greeks using a two-wheeled version. The first patent was registered in 1877 for a pram with a suspension body, an oil box for the hub
and a serrated tyre to stop the pram running off course. It is unclear when the first toy pram was made, though it is thought that a worker at Frampton's Pram Factory made a special doll's pram as a present for his daughter, sometime between 1853 and 1880.
The Victorian and Edwardian era saw the heyday of the pram. Queen Victoria herself set the fashion for perambulating, purchasing three prams in 1846 and giving her name to the Victoria pram
. Because they were so expensive, prams were something of a status symbol and all the best families paraded their children in prams in the park. Medical opinion was in favour of fresh air and exercise for young children. Doctors recommended a daily 'perambulation' and it became an important part of babies' and toddlers' routine.
In the Victorian era there were three types of pram:
- The Mailcart pram evolved from handcarts with four large wheels and a very long handle.
- The Victoria had three wheels and a seat like an invalid or bath chair.
- The Carriage Pram made its first appearance in the 1750s. These were almost exact replicas of full-sized horse-drawn carriages of the period.
Wealthy parents commissioned their coachbuilders to make prams. They were heavy and had shafts and a harness so that ponies, dogs or goats could draw them. By the mid-19th century, servants were cheap and plentiful, so the pram was adapted to be pushed by a person. A single pole, and then a handle, replaced the shafts. Like carriages, the front wheels were smaller than the rear as this enabled a much tighter turning circle, so that the pram could be manoeuvred easily.
The three-wheeled Victoria pram was popular for over 40 years although four wheels were more stable. This was because of the law which classified four-wheeled prams as Road Vehicles, making it illegal to use them on footpaths! In fact there were several successful prosecutions of lawless nannies and mothers who dared to push four-wheeled prams on public paths. Common sense prevailed with the introduction of baby prams in the 1880s. Policemen balked at arresting people pushing babies in the new mobile cradles, so it ceased to be an offence to use four-wheeled prams on footpaths.
During the last 20 years of Victoria's reign there was an increase in the numbers of prams sold because of the developments in mass production in the 1880s. There were over 250 pram manufacturers (20 in London alone), large and small, some producing more than 25 different models a year, each with their own name. They could offer up to five different colour schemes for coachwork or upholstery
on each model. By choosing the combination of model, colours and styles, customers could have their own exclusive pram. Nevertheless prams were still relatively expensive and a good pram could cost the equivalent of two months' wages for a working man.