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History of the Motorized Scooter | Evolution of Mopeds

Posted on 2020-03-23

Mopeds and motorized scooters have come a very long way since their inception in the early 1900s. Today's machines are faster, lighter and more eco-friendly. Though the popularity of scooters has fluctuated throughout the last several decades, they have remained a constant in both American and European society — but where did these scooters originate? Who invented mopeds, and what are the most popular mopeds of all time?

The Evolution of the Motorized Scooter

Humans love to challenge design. Since the invention of bicycles and automobiles, there have been constant efforts to improve and change them. The same is true of motorized scooters and mopeds. In this guide, we'll discuss the history of motorized scooters, including when they were first invented and their various uses throughout history.

Who Invented the Motorized Scooter?

history of the motorized scooter

Although earlier patents and drawn concepts for a similar design existed, the first commercially created motorized scooter was produced in New York in 1916 and was called The Autoped. The Autoped was the first mass-produced gasoline-powered scooter on the market. Its engine was mounted above the front wheel, and the steering column controlled both the clutch and brake. It was gasoline-powered and said to be popular among traffic police.

The Autoped could safely reach a speed of 20 miles per hour and was known to be unsteady if driven any faster. The Autoped was very popular when it was first released, mainly do the novelty of its appearance and function. It was marketed toward all walks of life, and advertisements that appeared in publications claimed one could use it for commuting to and from school or work, running errands, making business deliveries, salesmen transportation and more. It was toted as an excellent way to save time, money and energy while going about a daily routine. Only eight Autopeds are known to still exist today. 

How Motorized Scooters Were Used Throughout History

Motorized scooters and mopeds are still around today and are used primarily for transportation and recreation. However, during the first several decades of their existence, they had varied applications

how have scooters been used throughout history

  • Youthful recreation: Motorized scooters were created before most common traffic laws existed, including traffic lights. Teenagers were using motorized vehicles to drive recklessly, using machines with higher power engines. Laws were eventually passed to prohibit this. Unfortunately, this resulted in a loss of sales for many scooter production companies, as teenagers were a large part of their market. To combat the dip in sales, manufacturers found a loophole by creating specific scooters that could not go fast enough to break any laws. This loophole eventually led to the evolution of the moped. 
  • Gang getaways: In many places, especially New York, criminals, gang members and juvenile delinquents saw motorized scooters as the perfect method for a quick getaway when evading the police. 
  • The rich and famous: Early scooters were expensive to produce and thus expensive to purchase. The ordinary, everyday person usually could not afford the luxury. Instead, motorized scooters were seen as a symbol of wealth or status. In 1916, a print advertisement ran in a magazine featuring a character dubbed "Autoped girl." Autoped girl was a stylish woman in fashionable clothes and furs riding a scooter. Several iconic people of the time were photographed on scooters, including famed suffragette Lady Florence Norman — who used her scooter to commute to and from work — and even Amelia Earhart.
  • World War II: As with most inventions of the time, World War II played a big role in the history of mopeds. Commercial scooter production slowed considerably during the war. Any scooters that were produced were used by soldiers. After the war, however, soldiers returned home seeking an inexpensive way of transportation. Motorcycles existed, but were too expensive for the common soldier. Scooters were the perfect compromise for many. As demand increased in post-war societies, so did production. 
  • The Postal Service: One of the most iconic applications for motorized scooters was when the Postal Service used them to deliver mail in the early 1910s. Although scooters did not last long in the Postal Service, there have been some attempts to revive the notion. In 2002, the San Franciso Postal Service introduced Segways into their routes.

View Other Vehicle History Guides:

What Are the Different Types of Scooters?

Today, the terms "moped" and "motorized scooter" are used interchangeably, and rightfully so. The two machines function very similarly. That being said, they are not exactly the same. 

Moped vs. Motorized Scooter

So, what is a moped, and how does it differ from a motorized scooter? In terms of design, the most significant difference between the two machines is that motorized scooters have a step-through frame and a place to stand, while mopeds traditionally used pedals. However, in the eyes of the law, there are key differences. To drive a moped on public roadways, for example, it must be registered. Depending on the location, mopeds are typically not allowed to go faster than 25 or 30 miles per hour and must have below 50cc power.  

difference between a moped and scooter

How Many Different Types of Mopeds Are There?

There are three main types of mopeds, and they are divided by their engine size. Engine size is measured in "cc," or cubic centimeters. 

  • The 50cc engine: Mopeds with a 50cc engine are ideal for short trips or recreational purposes. In many states, they are okay to drive on public roadways with proper licensing and registration.
  • The 150cc engine: 150cc mopeds are more powerful than 50cc models, and are suited for longer recreational ventures that require more engine power.
  • The 250cc engine: A 250cc engine is one of the most powerful motorized scooters available. It is ideal for competitive sports and racing.

These are the most common types of moped engines. However, there have been several variations throughout history. For example, many popular scooters fall somewhere in between these figures with a 75cc or 125cc engine. 

What Are the Most Popular Scooters?

In addition to a 1916 Autoped, you can view the following popular vintage scooters at the Volo Auto Museum. These scooters, if not popular during their initial release, became immensely sought after by modern-day collectors and motorist historians. Many of these mopeds are rare finds, making them all the more interesting:

  • 1938 Cushman Auto Glide: The Cushman Auto Glide rolled onto the scene in 1938, two years after Cushman began creating motor scooters. These old school scooters had four horsepower Husky engines with an optional headlight. Shortly after the Auto Glide's debut during World War II, Cushman developed military scooters that were used during the war.
  • 1938 Moto Scoot: Moto Scoot's Chicago based manufacturer, Norm Siegal, was in business from 1937 until 1947. The scooter operated with 1.5 horsepower and was suspended only by the aired tires. Only ten Moto Scoots are still in existence, making them one of the rarest scooters in the Volo Auto Museum collection.
  • 1946 Doodle Bug: The iconic red Doodle Bug was a small, 1.5 horsepower scooter. Doodle Bugs were the first motorized adult transportation manufactured after World War II and were toted as an inexpensive way to get around in a post-war economy. They were built by the manufacturer Beam for only two years in Webster, Iowa, and sold under the brand name Hiawatha at Gambel Hardware Stores. Each year, the town of Webster holds a Doodle Bug reunion event, where Doodle Bug owners and scooter enthusiasts gather. 
  • 1947 Salsbury: The 1947 Salsbury was futuristic for its time and functioned similarly to a car. It had a gas pedal, a brake pedal, an automatic transmission and could reach speeds of 45 miles per hour. The 1947 models of the Salsbury were known as Imperial Rockets for their bold color, chrome plating and sleek design, which is said to be inspired by World War II aircraft. These are among the most popular vintage scooters today.
  • 1949 Indian Stylemaster: Featuring art-deco styling, a chrome jet age bumper and a dual seat, the 1949 design of the Indian Stylemaster scooter was only produced for one year. Only two are still known to exist, one of which you can see for yourself at the Volo Auto Museum. 
  • 1954 Terrot Scooterrot: The Terrot Scooterrot was popular in France upon release, which came only three years after Terrot debuted its first scooter at the Paris Salon in 1951. The scooter featured an enclosed body in fashionable colors of the 1950s, like beige and powder blue. Hailed for its beauty and style, the Scooterrot was marketed largely toward women.
  • 1954 Motobecane Mobylette: The 1954 Motobecane Mobylette — also known as the Moby — looks just like a bicycle, with a bike-style frame, fork tubing and rimmed tires. Mobelettes are often referred to as the finest mopeds in the world, and by the end of Motobecane's scooter production in 1997, millions of similarly styled Motobecane scooters had sold. 
  • 1955 Maico Mobil: The Maico Mobil was originally marketed in Germany as a "car on two wheels," and it is easy to see why. With dual seating, a protective wrap-around windshield, a built-in spare tire and under-seat luggage storage, it was the ideal touring scooter. 
  • 1957 Triumph Tessy: Volo Auto Museum's 1957 Triumph Tessy is a fully restored, rare, 125cc engine scooter from Germany. Only 200 of the Triumph Tessy were imported to the United States.
  • 1957 Zündapp Bella: The Zündapp Bella was a sturdy build with a shining exterior, designed by Germany to compete with the brand Vespa. The 200cc engine helped the scooter reach speeds as high as 60 miles per hour. Zündapp Bella is one of the most popular classic scooters for collectors worldwide.
  • 1960 Harley Topper: Today, Harley Davidson is recognized around the world as a leading motorcycle company. However, in the 1960s, the brand tried their hand at scooter production with the Harley Topper. The attempt was unsuccessful, making the Topper the only scooter to be produced by Harley.
  • 1961 Victoria 115: The Victoria 115 — also known as "The Tin Banana" — is a very rare find. Produced in Germany in 1961, it was considered an example of top mid-century Europen design at the time. 
  • 1962 Cezeta 502: Volo Auto Museum is fortunate to have an extremely rare Cezeta 502 on display. These scooters were designed by Jaroslav Frantisek Koch — a famous and well-respected motorcyclist and engineer — and produced in Czechoslovakia. The scooter was very successful upon release, due to its bottle-nose, futuristic shape. They were powerful for their time, clocking in at 175cc, eight horsepower and speeds reaching as high as 50 miles per hour. The scooter was featured on the History Channel's "American Restoration." 
  • 1963 Heinkel Tourist: The 1963 Heinkel Tourist is another popular piece for any collector of motorized scooters. The 1963 model was produced during the last series of Tourists that Heinkel ever made. This scooter has a four-speed transmission, four-stroke motor and 175cc power. The Tourist was considered the "Rolls-Royce" of scooters, and only 100 of the 1963 models made their way to the United States. The Tourist at Volo Auto Museum has only 1,597 miles on it and its original paint job. 
  • 1971 Pak-Jak: The Pak-Jak was only in production for one year, and the company produced only 125 scooters. The Pak-Jak has an electric start and is a three-wheel scooter, with one wheel in the front and two in the back with floating suspension.

visit the vintage scooter museum at Volo

Visit the Vintage Scooter Exhibit at Volo Auto Museum

The Volo Auto Museum has spent years curating a collection of preserved and fully restored motorized scooters and mopeds. Our collection consists of more than 50 scooters from all around the world, including some of the earliest models produced. Our vintage scooter exhibit is ideal for motor enthusiasts, scooter collectors, lovers of antiques or anyone interested in learning more about these unique pieces of history. Bring the whole family and plan to spend the day browsing 33 exhibits and dining at our on-site pizza parlor. Schedule your group trip in time to attend one of our events or to take a seasonal train ride. The museum is indoors, so you can view exhibits any time of year, no matter the weather. We are open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. 

If classic scooters pique your interest and you want to learn more about the history and evolution of transportation, make sure you stop by some similar exhibits, including: 

Start planning your visit today to see all of these exhibits and many more.