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Children glide over the snow in New York City’s Central Park in 1905.  ID P.DPC.013624
INSET: Child’s sled, made in New England in the late 1800s.  ID  31.1269.1


January 2005

Children's Sleds

During the 1800s, when winter brought icy blasts and piles of snow, Americans put away their wheeled vehicles and hitched up their horses to sleighs.  In the northern United States, the winter months were ideal both for travel and for pleasure driving.  Cold temperatures froze the ground and packed snow and ice made the usually rutted roads much easier to drive on. 

The blustery weather also brought outdoor fun for children.  Sledding was a favorite activity and children delighted in coasting downhill and sliding across ice ponds on their sleds.  And—even though they were usually encouraged to be prim and proper in their play—girls as well as boys enjoyed this winter activity. 


MORE: Children's Sleds

Sleds were available in a variety of styles during the last half of the 1800s. Some sleds were homemade, but factory-made sleds were increasingly available in toy stores and through mail order catalogs. Simple designs, low sleds with solid wood runners, were known as clipper or coaster sleds. Others had seats raised higher off the snow and glided on narrow runners. The most elaborate children’s sleds were smaller versions of full-size horse-drawn sleighs of the period. These were designed to be pushed from a handle attached to the back, pulled by a handle in front, or drawn by a small animal.

Jeanine Head Miller
Curator of Domestic Life, Leisure & Entertainment
This coaster sled has the brand name “Black Hawk” stenciled on the side.   Stephen Isch, a 25-year-old German immigrant living in Buffalo, New York, made this elaborate child’s sleigh for his son Rudolph about 1873.

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