The first mass-produced scooter, the Vespa, what means ‘Wasp’ in Italian, was created in 1946 by Piaggio, an Italian aircraft manufacturer. After the end of World War II, Piaggio had a surplus of landing wheels and wing panels, and gave its engineers a quirky but simple brief: ‘Develop a motorcycle which could be ridden by a woman or a priest.’ And so the step-thru scooter was born. Or was it?
Founded in 1901, Cushman Motor Works made engines for industrial and farm use. One of its first engines was a two-stroke for small boats. In about 1936 Cushman decided it could sell more engines if ti made a cheap, easy-to-use motorcycle, and the result was a scooter.
Cushman grew slowly on the back of tis new design and made three scooter models including the Model 53 Airborne Motor Scooter, which was parachuted out of aircraft in WWII. The step-thru design made it faster to mount and dismount, and nine out of ten US military scooters were supplied by Cushman.
After the war the Cushman scooter business boomed, until 1966 when the Honda Cub step-thru swept all before it. The company survived, though, and today makes three- and four-wheel units for schools, governments, golf courses and industrial plants.