The Original Big Wheel was made by Marx in 1968. Ah, the ancient Chinese "Year of the Big Wheel". Hot on it's heels was Empire of Carolina with a whole line of ride-on toys including the Hot Cycle, Chopperoo, both direct competitors of the Big Wheel.
In 1985, Marx was on hard times and sold off some assets. This included the Big Wheel. As far as I can determine, the name was sold to Empire of Carolina who kept their own mono-tube frame design, and the body style went to Coleco who was bought by Hasbro and ultimately became the Playskool Power Cycle. That's why nobody recognizes the Empire Big Wheel even though it has the same name, and everyone clues into the "six-pack seat" of the Playskool Power Cycle.
Sadly, Playskool stopped production of the Power Cycle in 1997, and despite repeated phone calls, I can find no-one who knows what will become of the design. It was clearly superior with it's wide back end and well- supported axle.
Just when it seemed that Empire had a corner on the market, they filed for Chapter 11 in December 2001. The molds were sold to Alpha International, and I haven't been able to tell if they're going to continue production. Last word (Jun-02) was that they were missing the mold for 1 part and were holding off on production.
A curious side note, General Foam Plastics of Virginia has come out with, what looks like, a direct copy of the Empire Big Wheel called the Xtreme Cycle. Evidently this was a production demonstration for Wal-mart and they were only made in 2002, and only available at Wal-mart. They did make their own killer front wheel, but the rest of the bike looks like they actually took molds of the Empire and started pumping plastic. We'll see if these continue.
Enter Processed Plastics in about 1999. These guys make a model that's similar to the Empire class, but distinctly their own. As of late 2002, they were still in full production. This is the model that you'll see if you go shopping. They've even come out with a model with the infamous Power Brake for skid outs!
2002 also saw the advent of the New Generation Big Wheels. This was led by Razor USA and their all-steel, chromed Scream Machine. Your very own Captain Obvious was invited to roll out some of the first at the national product launch at FAO Schwarz in New York City. Check it out! Following closely, Royce Union and Yerf-Dog rolled out a common design. Time will tell if these will enter the Big Wheel lore.