Radio Flyer Inc. is one of the oldest national toy companies that is owned and operated by the original founding family. As makers of the little red wagon and subsequent models of wooden, steel, and plastic toy wagons and tricycles, Radio Flyer has been making coasting toys “for every girl and boy” since 1917.1
Antonio Pasin, a sixteen year old Italian immigrant, was looking for cabinet making work in Chicago in 1914.2 Instead he began his American work experience as a water boy for a sewer digging crew. After three years of working various jobs, Antonio bought some used woodworking tools and rented a small workshop space where he could use the wood crafting skills his father and grandfather had taught him.
Initially Antonio crafted wood cabinets for phonographs, but soon switched to creating children's wooden wagons.3 He did his woodworking at night and sold them by day on the streets of Chicago. Six years later, in 1923, his business had grown enough that Antonio hired helpers and formed the Liberty Coaster Wagon Company, named after the Statue of Liberty he had seen nine years earlier as he arrived in America.4 His first wagon model was the No. 4 Liberty Coaster, the first of the Liberty Coaster Line.
The innovations of Henry Ford, a contemporary business man, influenced Antonio to refit his factory to manufacture inexpensive, well-built children's wagons out of metal stamped steel pieces.5 Using the assembly line which Henry had popularized, in 1927 Antonio produced his first stamped steel wagon – the Radio Flyer, named after his personal interest in the new technologies of radio and airplanes.6 Producing 1500 identical red wagons a day during the 1930s led to Antonio becoming known as “Little Ford.”7
With a price of less than $3 each, the Radio Flyers sold steadily through the Depression of the 30s, allowing Antonio to employ scores of workers and manufacture at full capacity.8 Since many of his workers were Italian immigrants like himself, Antonio provided English tutoring and interest free loans for building homes, again perhaps following Henry Ford's lead in social consciousness.9 With the success of the Radio Flyer line of wagons, the company was renamed in 1930 to become Radio Steel & Manufacturing.10
In 1933, Radio Steel was asked to be a part of the Chicago World's Fair. Antonio borrowed $30,000 to create a 45 foot tall Coaster Boy that towered over his exhibit where he sold miniatures souvenirs for 25 cents.11 His eye-catching exhibit won him an article in the Chicago Tribune and the Radio Flyer became famous. A year later Radio Steel introduced the Streak-O-Lite, a wagon with “control dials and working headlights” which was modeled after the popular Zephyr Train.12 Later in the 30s, they added the Zep flyer, which was streamlined like the current luxury automobiles.
During World War II from 1942-1945, Radio Flyer joined the war effort and manufactured the red five-gallon steel “Blitz Cans” for transporting fuel and water to the troops. For this they earned an Army-Navy “E” award in 1945. After the war, the company introduced a new bearing called the “Congo Thousand Mile Bearing,” which they guaranteed for 1000 miles of “smooth, quiet riding.”13
The 1950s brought the Radio Rancher Convertible, a wagon with removable steel stake sides for larger loads,14 and specialty wagons such as the Davy Crockett wagon and the Mickey Mouse Club wagon. After 40 years of making only children's coasting wagons, Radio Steel branched out in 1957 to making steel garden carts and wheelbarrows for the nation's growing suburbia's needs.15
Over the next three decades, as the toy industry consolidated into large firms which focused increasingly on “faddish toys and toys that could be marketed through licensing tie-ins to movies and television shows,” Radio Steel focused on their core products, increasing safety features, and appealing to the whole family.16 The Scat Racer, introduced in the 1960s, accented safety features in its compact design, and the Town & Country wagon, a wooden wagon, featured streamlined corners and a controlled turning radius to protect against tipping.17 By 1977, all their pull wagons, including the Town & Country, were fitted with a new ball joint between the wagon handle and the undercarriage that prevented fingers from being pinched.18
During this time Radio Steel introduced the Fireball 2000, a 1970s children's car, and the Fireball 2001, a dragster design with speed ball bearings and a safety roll bar.19 They also entered the bicycle and tricycle market with the Motocross bike. In the 1980s they created the Radio Flyer Row Cart, which children propelled themselves forward with the push-pull bar while they steered with their feet.20
To appeal to the whole family during these decades, Radio Steel produced the Baby Walker for toddlers in the 1960s,21 the Ski Sled for adult riders in the 1970s, and Outdoor Lawn Furniture for the whole family in the 1980s.22
In 1987, Radio Steel, now led by Antonio's son Mario, changed their name to Radio Flyer Inc. At that time their major competition was Rubbermaid's Little Tykes plastic wagons. Though they were a smaller company, Radio Flyer Inc. continued to dominate the children's toy wagon market. To keep their competitive edge, Radio Flyer discontinued their manufacturing of wheelbarrows and focused solely on children's wagons.23 The popularity of the Radio Flyer wagons was enhanced in 1992, with the release of the movie, Radio Flyer, an independently produced feature film that followed two young boys' imaginary adventures with their own Radio Flyer wagon.24
Meanwhile, Radio Flyer Inc. released the Mountain Trike with real working hand brakes, the Quad Shock with Monroe approved shock absorbers, the ATW Steel & Wood Wagon with high sides and air tires, the Push Pull Wagon with an easily re-positionable handle,25 the Trailblazer with 10% more space, and the Voyager with a car design that included a front and back seat, hinged side door, and canopy roof.26 They also brought back the Retro Red Tricycle.
Mario's sons, Robert and Paul, were being groomed to take the lead, which they did in 1997 with Robert becoming CEO and Paul overseeing the factories in China.27 Also that year, in celebration of their 80th anniversary, they produced the “World's Largest Wagon,” a 27 foot long, 15,000 pound promotional wagon that traveled across the continent. Further promotions included licensed agreements to make Christmas ornaments, train cars, key chains, refrigerator magnets, porcelain dolls, and Hot Wheels toy cars.28
Two landmark dates for Radio Flyer Inc. occurred with the 1999 induction of the Radio Flyer Wagon into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York, and with the 2003 induction of Antonio Pasin as the 44th toy innovator recognized by the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.29 The Radio Flyer Wagon also made TIME Magazines' All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys List in 201130 and inspired a Spokane, Washington Radio Flyer Wagon playground sculpture with the handle doubling as a slide.31
In 2001, Radio Flyer Inc. introduced the Path Finder Wagon, which has been more successful than the original Radio Flyer.32 They also have innovated with the tricycle, creating three new designs: the Twist Trike that can be either a traditional tricycle or a chopper style three wheeler, the Fold To Go Trike, and the Deluxe Steer & Stroll tricycle.33
After 86 years of manufacturing in Chicago, in 2003, Robert closed the local factories and began outsourcing production to factories in China.34 He also updated the company headquarters in Chicago to create a playful environment, and they have since been listed on four separate Best Places to Work Lists in 2011.35
- 1. “Radio Flyer Wagon.” National Toy Hall of Fame. < http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/radio-flyer-wagon > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 2. “The Beginning.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage_beginning.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 3. “The Wagons Keep Rolling.” The New York Times. July 24, 2010. < http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/jobs/25boss.html > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 4. “Radio Flyer Inc.” Funding Universe. < http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Radio-Flyer-Inc-company-History.html > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 5. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 6. “The Thirties.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage1930.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 7. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 8. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Wagon.”
- 9. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 10. Op.cit., “The Thirties.”
- 11. Op.cit., “The Wagons Keep Rolling.”
- 12. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 13. “The Forties.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage1940.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 14. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 15. “The Fifties.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage1950.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 16. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 17. “The Eighties.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage1980.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 18. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 19. “The Seventies.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage1970.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 20. Op.cit., “The Eighties.”
- 21. “The Sixties.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage1960.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 22. Op.cit., “The Seventies.”, “The Eighties.”
- 23. Op.cit., “The Wagons Keep Rolling.”
- 24. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 25. “The Nineties.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage1990.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 26. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 27. Op.cit., “The Wagons Keep Rolling.”
- 28. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 29. “Radio Flyer in 2000.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyerlink.com/apps/history/heritage2000.asp > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 30. About Us.” Radio Flyer. < http://www.radioflyer.com/media-coverage/ > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 31. “Red Wagon.” Riverfront Park. < http://spokaneriverfrontpark.com/index.php/RFP/page/367/ > 15 Jan. 2012.
- 32. “Entrepreneur of the Year 2009, Road to Palm Springs.” Ernst & Young. < http://ey.mobi/US/en/About-us/Entrepreneur-Of-The-Year/US_EOY_RTPS_2009_Pasin > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 33. Op.cit., “Radio Flyer Inc.”
- 34. Op.cit., “Entrepreneur of the Year 2009.”
- 35. Op.cit., “About Us.”