Some of our toys were unique to our own childhoods. The senior members of the Baby Boomer generation had Howdy Doody dolls. Boomers my age and a little younger had Schwinn Sting Rays.
But generations of kids stretching back to 1923 grew up with wagons produced by the company founded by Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin. And they still do. Even Calvin would take his friend Hobbes on some harrying trips down hillsides in a Radio Flyer.
The wooden wagons were known as Liberty Coasters when they came out that year. In 1930, Antonio’s company was renamed Radio Steel and Manufacturing. His first metal wagon, which came out that year, was known as the Radio Flyer.
Despite the Great Depression, Pasin’s company hung in there. The wagons were sturdy enough to serve for working purposes, and Radio Steel also made other implements like wheelbarrows.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Pasin and company went to work cranking out hundreds of thousands of blitz cans, the familiar five-gallon containers seen bolted to the backs of Jeeps. No Radio Flyers were produced during a period of time from 1942 to 1945.
However, that meant that as soon as our fathers got back from the war, Radio Flyers would once again be available for them to buy for us. And buy them they did. They recognized a good investment when they saw one, and a Radio Flyer would typically be handed down to multiple aged brothers.
Of course, girls enjoyed them too. Pasin made sure they would be included as his customers with his original slogan “For every boy. For every girl.”
The wagon was the finest kind of plaything that there was. The perfect toy should teach a child a lesson. A Radio Flyer was simply a four-wheeled device with a pulling handle that also steered. What you did with such a device was use your imagination.
For example, a kid down the street transformed his Flyer into a fire truck. A wagon that might have once served for hauling toys, puppies, rocks, pop bottles, or anything else a kid might want transported was serving noble duty loaded with bottles of water, a bucket of sand, and other various firefighting implements that he found appropriate. I believe the high point of his life was when a grass fire mom started in our yard to burn off thatch got a bit out of control. David came roaring into the yard making a siren noise and sprayed the miniature conflagration with his water bottles until it was extinguished.
Another lesson the Flyer taught was that you had to watch where you put your fingers. If you caught a digit in the handle hinge, it would get pinched and hurt like the devil. Like a finger in a light bulb socket, you only did that ONCE.
Radio Flyers continue to be big sellers. And unlike so many other toy companies from our childhoods, it has survived intact as an independent business. Radio Flyer, Inc. is a family-owned company in Chicago that is doing quite well, thank you. While their products are manufactured overseas, their administrative and creative center is right here in the good old USA.
So why not start a new tradition with your grandkid and give them a genuine Radio Flyer? His or her younger siblings will be as grateful as the lucky recipient.