Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the 65 toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame, the Radio Flyer red wagon weathered a few world wars and more to surpass its 100 anniversary last year, a feat achieved by very few businesses.  Boasting more than 100 million sold since Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin first offered to the public his wooden wagons, the iconic American toy that doubled as a plane, a car, and a spaceship is the subject of a new book, Radio Flyer: 100 Years of America’s Little Red Wagon, available today for the first time.  Check out several preview pages below courtesy of the publisher.

Written by founder Antonio Pasin’s grandson Robert Pasin and journalist Carlye Adler, Radio Flyer: 100 Years of America’s Little Red Wagon tells the story of a craftsman in early 20th century Chicago as the industrial revolution and over-population clashed.  As the Great Depression was arriving, Antonio Pasin found a way to lift himself out of the standard construction job.  After teaching himself English, he received an apprenticeship, and would go on to purchase steel and inexpensive materials, facing competitors using less-substantial wooden models, having migrated his business to support a full steel wagon.  The red wagon survived when many industrial products failed, even decades of toy stores that sold it.

The name Radio Flyer reflects the marketing mind of the toy company’s founder–blending two catchy new wave concepts: the radio and the airplane.  The name and colors would change a bit over time, including a Lindy Flyer following the popularity of Charles A. Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight, but the wagon would always return and was its most popular in the familiar red paint, with more than a dozen line-art logos used over the years, pictured in the book.  A history of the wagon, photographs of 100 years of advertisements, and stories of those who loved their own wagon, this book is for anyone nostalgic for classic Americana.

I got my Radio Flyer for Christmas when I was a few years old (shown above, I’m the kid in red with my brother and sister).  Just looking at my eyes it’s anyone’s guess where I was soaring off to in my new wagon.  I hauled everything in it–toys, sand, plants, and lots of stuffed animals.  One vivid memory was being pulled in it when it suddenly came to a stop and my head crashed into the edge.  My mother called the 1970s equivalent of 911 and I took my one and only police car ride–to the hospital.  No harm done, just a lump on my head for a while, and another wagon adventure under my belt.  The wagon, now about 45 years old, is still functioning like it was new, regularly hauling 40-pound bags of top soil to the yard.  (My siblings and I also had the corresponding red go-cart and tricycle).  You’ll find plenty of stories like mine (without the injuries) in Radio Flyer: 100 Years of America’s Little Red Wagon.

Here is a look inside the book:

Nicely designed in a shiny red hardcover edition by Harper Design, the book’s images of the company’s early 1900s Chicago factory and its workers are most compelling.  Although the company didn’t need to advertise like many toy products because its use served as enough of an advertisement in everyone’s neighborhood, when the company did advertise it did it in big ways, creating a giant version for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934, and an updated giant edition for the 1997 New York Toy Fair, which now sits outside the company headquarters.  During World War II the company took a break from wagons to assist in the war effort, making the containers attached to jeeps that contained fresh water or fuel.  It’s been the subject of two films, and most recently the company released a working Star Wars Landspeeder and a Tesla.  But it’s the classic design that survived and the reason the Radio Flyer red wagon is still popular as the company starts its second century of sales.

A good retro fix for anyone who loves nostalgia, Radio Flyer: 100 Years of America’s Little Red Wagon arrives in book stores today, or order a copy here at Amazon.

 

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