Collectors Corner: Radio Flyer
By Michele Alice
There are probably few adults who don't recall playing with a red coaster wagon. If they didn't own one, it was almost certain that one of the other kids in the neighborhood did, and everyone would take turns being pulled around the block. You weren't a veteran wagoneer if you hadn't suffered at least one skinned knee or elbow from being tipped from the wagon as a corner was taken too fast, spilling its passenger(s).
This year, the company that makes the Radio Flyer (aka "the little red wagon"), and is, surprisingly, still under the control of the descendants of the company's founder, celebrates its 100th anniversary.
When 16-year-old Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin arrived in the United States in 1913, he was already a skilled cabinet maker like his father and grandfather before him. His parents had reportedly sold the family mule to pay for his passage to America so he could seek a better life, but he had difficulty finding anything other than odd jobs and menial work. Eventually, he saved enough to purchase used woodworking tools, rent a small work space, and go into business for himself. He built a small wagon to transport his tools from job to job and soon discovered that more than a few customers voiced interest in purchasing copies of his cart for their children.
By 1917 Pasin was making and selling small wood wagons specifically geared towards children. Several employees were gradually added to meet demand, and in 1923 Pasin formed the Liberty Coaster Manufacturing Company (named in honor of the Statue of Liberty). One of the company's earliest and most successful products was the No.4 Liberty Coaster sold directly to stores.
As demand for the wagons continued to escalate, Pasin sought ways to increase production. He found the solution in automobile manufacturing. His adaptation of the assembly line and other techniques led, in 1927, to the introduction of the stamped-steel wagon. The Radio Flyer - named for Guglielmo Marconi's development of radio transmission and Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight - retailed for less than $3 and earned Pasin the nickname "Little Ford."
The onset of the Great Depression did little to curb demand, and by 1930 the company - renamed Radio Steel & Manufacturing - was the world's largest maker of coaster wagons. The Chicago World's Fair in 1933 presented Pasin with a golden opportunity for promoting his company's products, and the miniature wagons that originally sold at the Fair for 25 cents are now extremely popular among collectors, who willingly pay $10 to $30 for the more common styles up to $100+ for the rarer models or for pieces in exceptional condition.
The 1930s also saw the introduction of special model wagons inspired by popular culture. One of the first and most successful of these was the Streak-O-Lite, styled to evoke Zephyr streamliner trains, while another was the Zep based on the aerodynamically-designed Chrysler Airflow. Other notable tie-ins over the ensuing decades included a blue Mickey Mouse Club version and a yellow Davy Crockett version, both from the 1950s, and the muscle-car/Evel Knievel-inspired Fireball wagon of the 1970s.
In 1987 Radio Steel & Manufacturing became Radio Flyer Inc., a fact it is worthwhile to know since it helps, along with the name change in 1930, to date vintage wagons. Most Radio Flyers have been well-used and/or poorly stored and suffer from chipped paint, rust, dents, and a multitude of other damage, and so rarely sell for more than a few dollars, but older and relatively rare models that have been restored or are in exceptionally good original condition can command prices well into the $400+ range.
In 1999 the Radio Flyer wagon was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, and in 2003 Pasin became the 42nd inductee into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.
Antonio Pasin was not the first to make children's coaster wagons, but the company he founded remains to this day the world's leader and a favorite among collectors.
If you would like to find out more about Radio Flyer, check out the resources listed below, and
Coasting on Wheels, by Gordon Westover
My Little Red Wagon: Radio Flyer Memories, by Robert Pasin
Riding Toys Pre-1900 - Early 1900s (Wagons, Tricycles, Scooters, Irish Mails, Sleds, Ride-ons, Mobos, Rocking Horses), by L-W Books
Play & Playground Encyclopedia - Fact-filled history.
Radio Flyer History - Vintage footage on YouTube.
RadioFlyer.com - Official site includes an illustrated history.
The Strong National Museum of Play - Home of the National Toy Hall of Fame.
Five Crafty and Creative Ways to Repurpose a Little Red Wagon (Country Living) - We really liked the Credenza Catchall and Dog Bed ideas. Can you come up with more?
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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