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Radio Flyer: How the Little Red Wagon Became a Classic American Toy

A 15,000 pound, 26 foot high, 27 foot long model of a Radio Flyer wagon is juxtaposed with a 6-inch one at the company's display during the American International Toy Fair, at New York's Javits Convention Center Monday Feb. 13, 2006. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The historic toy company Radio Flyer is best known for its little red wagons which have become one of the quintessential childhood toys in America. While styles have changed over the years for the radio flyer wagon, the red tin and push handle toys have become an institution. Did you know it's already been over 100 years since the company was first founded in Chicago, Illinois

A young sixteen year-old from Italy by the name of Antonio Pasin immigrated from Venice to the United States. Coming from a family of cabinet makers, Pasin was naturally gifted in design and carpentry skills. After moving to America, he started his first company, Venetian Furniture Company, which was inspired by his childhood home of Venice. He loved to play around with designs and ended up creating what he called the "Liberty Coaster," named after the Statue of Liberty that greeted all new immigrants in New York City. He used it to cart around his tools, which he used to build phonograph cabinets. Pretty soon, those wagons were selling faster than the cabinets. The Radio Flyer business was born in 1917, though it would be years before he would be known by that name. 

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Though his original design was a wooden toy wagon, it was getting difficult to keep up with production. When automotive design started popularizing in the '20s, Pasin shifted his design to make the classic red wagon out of tin, which is how we associate the brand today. He even earned the nickname "Little Ford" for his toys that were for little girls as well as boys. Pasin worked incredibly hard to get his brand in front of consumers. At the Chicago World Fair in 1933, he personally funded a massive 45 foot tall wood and plaster statue of a boy on a Liberty Coaster wagon. Radio Steel, his business at the time, sold mini wagons under the structure for 25 cents a pop. The effort was well worth it because it made the brand world-famous. Pasin was even able to launch a new specialty product, the Streak-O-Lite wagon, which had headlights. 

The company didn't become known as Radio Flyer until 1987. It was named in honor of the popular red wagon that made them a household name. It expanded its product offerings as well and made scooters, tricycles, ride-ons, horses, battery ops and more. After Pasin passed away, his grandson Robert Pasin stepped in as CEO in 1997.

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These days, the company has seriously expanded its merchandise past the original wagon. The Tesla Model S for kids is a mini Tesla in the classic Radio Flyer red. It's basically a really cool battery-powered version of the Barbie Jeep! They offer an EZ Fold Wagon (a folding wagon), a Go-Kart, various deluxe versions of the original red wagon, the Stroll 'N Trike stroller and more. For information on all of Radio Flyer's in-stock products visit their website at www.radioflyer.com.

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Radio Flyer: How the Little Red Wagon Became a Classic American Toy