The ‘Charley Horse’ is most commonly recognized as being a leg cramp, and stems as a result of a muscle cramp. The muscle cramp in the body is an uncontrollable suddenly contraction of a muscle group, and most commonly occurs in the legs. A cramp such as this will occur unexpectedly when a muscle forcefully contracts, and most common muscle groups to do this are the ones that cross over two joints. This type of cross-joint cramping occurs mainly in the calf (the cross of the ankle and knee), the quads (crossing of the knee and hip), and the hamstring (a differing muscle group crossing the hip and knee). The best way to take care of a cramp that has occurred is to massage the affected area and gently stretch it. After a massage and light stretching, taking a hot shower or bath or putting a warm wet cloth to the affected area can help to relax the group and prevent a second cramp from occurring.
The name seems to be mostly used in America and has possible roots of origin in older baseball slang. One of the common theories behind this is that the Chicago White Sox (circa 1890s) had a lame horse named Charley who pulled the roller for the ballpark. There is a possible earlier theory from the late 17th century based out of England that circles around the idea of Policemen being called Charleys at the time, who would get leg cramps after walking through rounds of the day.
As soon as the pedal bicycle was put on the market in 1869, inventors applied their minds and engineering skills to come up with diverse spin-offs that they thought might make them rich. The illustration above, from 1892, is for a prototype bicycle railway which, unsurprisingly, was never built. One of the few areas of production that was slightly more successful for small-time inventors was in children’s bicycles.
Bicycles and tricycles with a horse theme were a popular genre because of the popularity of the rocking horse – a traditional nursery toy with a long history – and quite complex ‘horse-velocipedes’ were made from the 1880s onwards in Europe and America. And, bear in mind that the first ‘bicycles’ around 1820 were ‘hobby horses’ – adult size machines without steering (below).
Though inventors of children’s toys were unlikely to make their fortune, toy wholesalers and retailers were willing to market obscure styles of toys in their catalogues on a trial basis, so at least inventors had an opportunity to make some prototypes and see if they sold. Because of their low production figures, the overwhelming majority of these models have since slipped into obscurity. But, every now and then, an example turns up to amaze us with its ingenuity …or ‘wackiness.’ The Charlie Horse fits the bill in both respects.
1920s Charlie Horse
Four-wheeled Children’s Toy
It’s lucky that small children have a good imagination, because the Charlie Toy could not really be described as attractive: it’s more like an industrial design exercise, and much of its interest relates to its unique form of propulsion dependent on its sprung frame. To my critical eye, it seems more like a toy that would appeal to an adult male curious about how it works than a child who would use it!
But such shortfalls of design are a major ingredient of failed experiments – so called ‘white elephants.’ Empathy knows no barrier of time, so collectors of eccentrics vehicles today can easily imagine an inventor of the 1920s drawing up the idea and turning out all the components in his workshop in the garden to triumphantly try out his new toy on neighbourhood children.