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Tag Archive: Radio Flyer


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.

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Netflix is now carrying a new documentary television series that delves into the creators behind some of our favorite toys from the recent, and not so recent past.  The Toys That Made Us features four episodes in its first season of streaming, each focused on a toy line that should bring in a good cross-section of fandom.  The choices for the first shows include Kenner’s vintage Star Wars action figures and playsets, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, with an emphasis on the 3 3/4″ line of action figures, Mattel’s Barbie, and the Mattel’s Masters of the Universe No doubt Barbie and G.I. Joe should pull in the older crowd, while the latter half of G.I. Joe and Star Wars will pull in the kids of the 1970s and early 1980s, and Masters of the Universe the kids of the 1980s.

Not a show for kids and not another show about toy collectors, the series devotes plenty of each hour to interviews with designers, marketing, other businessmen discussing the nuts and bolts of negotiating deals, like the lawyer for Kenner discussing the greatest toy deal negotiation ever, and the later not-so-great negotiation because of a loose-lipped CEO.  The Barbie episode features a Barbie expert continually bashing the character as a “hooker” as if she has some sort of love-hate relationship with the doll.  But the politics of toymaking is interesting fodder for the right audience.  Should it be a surprise that toymakers have the same ugly corporate politics, the downsizing, the layoffs, and the takeovers, like every other company?  Prepare yourself for several CEOs and designers as they tiptoe, or not, around decisions and employers they wrestled with in the past as toys and brands came and went.  The creators look back both with nostalgia and anger at the former toy companies that eventually terminated their employment.  So look for an unusual take on these toys and these companies.

The next four episodes will be launched on Netflix later this year, and include Hello Kitty, Transformers, Star Trek, and LEGO.  Sometimes what the show chooses to tell is as interesting as how the show tells it.  The eight toy lines chosen no doubt came from the producer’s own focus groups, like the ideas behind some of the toys they discuss.  If The Toys That Made Us really is a one-time thing, someone else should come along and continue the idea with all the other major brands and influences.

We want to see an episode on Marx toys, including little toy soldiers and the 12-inch action figure series.  We also want to see a history of the broad Mego line of figures, Hot Wheels, Stretch Armstrong, and Big Jim.  How about companies like Fisher Price, Playskool, Playmobil, and Radio Flyer?  A series like this needs to cover more “recent” but still classic toy lines, too, like My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, and figure out a way to capture famous classic toys like Spirograph, Tinker Toys, Play-Doh, Etch-A-Sketch, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and the ultimate multi-license toy, Viewmaster.  How about a tour of the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers factories of the past?  Who put out more great board games than these companies?  It’s easy to imagine entire episodes on the history of games like Clue/Cluedo and Monopoly.  And how about featuring a current game company that’s been around for decades, like Wizards of the Coast?

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “unfair” repeated more on the Internet.  At San Diego Comic-Con this week Radio Flyer–the classic wagon company–revealed its latest kids’ toy, Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder.  You can hear adults everywhere gasping–trying to decide whether they are willing to be jealous of their kids–and buying them one.

It’s pricey, listing at $499.  But–WOW–does it look like fun, even if it’s not really a hovercraft.  Here is the marketing description from Radio Flyer:

Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder by Radio Flyer is modeled after the sand-pocked and sun-faded X-34 craft from Star Wars: A New Hope. With seats for 2 riders, an interactive dashboard with lights and real movie sounds, and a 5 mph driving speed, this speeder provides a truly galactic driving experience. 

Here is a promotional video of the Landspeeder in action:

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