The founder of the Radio Flyer® Wagon company, Antonio Pasin, was born in Venice. At 16 he dreamed of starting a new life in America. His family helped pay for his journey, and soon he was living in Chicago. He was a woodworker by trade, but had a difficult time finding work in that field. Eventually, after worker odd jobs, he saved up enough money to purchase his own equipment and began making wooden wagons in his basement.
Soon afterwards, he formed a company to make and distribute his wagons, which he called the Liberty Coaster Company. In 1930 he renamed the company Radio Steel and Manufacturing. The word Radio was chosen because Pasin felt it represented the sense of wonder the future offered. His first steel wagon he named the Radio Flyer® Wagon to represent the idea of flight, as well.
During the 1940s, with America at war, the Radio Flyer® Wagon company stopped making wagons. Instead, they focused their energies on supporting the war effort by making their iconic red Blitz Cans, which were five gallon cans meant to carry water and fuel to troops. At the end of the war, however, the Radio Flyer® Wagon jumped right back into American life, with the company ramping up its advertising and production.
During the 1950s having a Radio Flyer® Wagon was almost a pre-requisite to being a child in America. The country was reveling in its newfound economic strength, and the Radio Flyer® Wagon was a symbol for children in much the same way a new Chrysler or Ford was for adults.
In 1933, Chicago was the host of the World’s Fair, the Century of Progress, and Radio Steel was asked to be a part of the celebration. Antonio Pasin took on major debt to fund the construction of a 45 foot tall wood and plaster Coaster Boy statue depicting a boy riding a Liberty Coaster wagon (illustrated above). Below the Coaster Boy exhibit Pasin sold miniature Radio Flyer coaster wagons for 25 cents.
1933 Chicago World’s Fair ‘Radio Flyer’ Souvenir Coaster Wagon
LENGTH inc HANDLE: 7″
Compare the 4″ long Radio Flyer World’s Fair Souvenir with the full size models listed in the 1935 catalogue, below.
The Chicago World’s Fair – also known as the ‘Century of Progress International Exposition’ – was held from 1933 to 1934 to celebrate Chicago’s centennial. The theme of the fair was technological innovation and its motto ‘Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.’ Its architectural symbol was the Sky Ride, a transporter bridge perpendicular to the shore on which one could ride from one side of the fair to the other.
The fair buildings were multi-colored, to create a ‘Rainbow City’ as opposed to the ‘White City’ of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The buildings generally followed ‘moderne’ architecture in contrast to the neoclassical themes used at the 1893 fair. One famous feature of the fair were the performances of fan dancer Sally Rand. Other popular exhibits were the various auto manufacturers, the Midway (filled with nightclubs such as the Old Morocco, where future stars Judy Garland, The Cook Family Singers and the Andrews Sisters performed), and a recreation of important scenes from Chicago’s history. The fair also contained exhibits that would seem shocking to modern audiences, including offensive portrayals of African-Americans, a ‘Midget City’ complete with ‘sixty Lilliputians’ and an exhibition of incubators containing real babies.
One of the highlights of the 1933 World’s Fair was the arrival of the German airship Graf Zeppelin on October 26, 1933. After circling Lake Michigan near the Exposition for two hours, Commander Hugo Eckener landed the 776-foot airship at a nearby airport. It remained on the ground for twenty-five minutes then took off ahead of an approaching weather front, bound for Akron, Ohio. For some Chicagoans, however, the appearance of the Graf Zeppelin over their city was not a welcome sight, as the airship had become a prominent reminder of the ascendancy of Hitler to power earlier that same year. This triggered dissension in the days following its visit, particularly within the city’s large German-American population.
The ‘dream cars’ that American automobile manufacturers exhibited at the fair included Cadillac’s introduction of its V-16 limousine.
The Nash exhibit had a variation on the vertical parking garage.
Lincoln presented its rear-engined concept car which was a precursor to the Lincoln-Zephyr (which went into production in 1936 with a front engine).
Chevrolet set up a complete assembly line: It was possible to place an order for a new Chevrolet at your hometown dealer, travel to the Fair, watch your new car being built, and drive it home. The first such Chevrolet built was awarded to a lucky ticket holder from among 400,000 Chicago school children. The winner was an eight-year-old girl named Dorothy Maciejewska. Dorothy’s family had never owned an automobile before!
Pierce-Arrow presented its modernistic Silver Arrow, for which it used the byline ‘Suddenly it’s 1940!’
Buckminter Fuller’s radical three-wheeled rear-engined Dymaxion was the most unusual car design at the show.
Packard won the best of show, with its Deitrich-designed limousine known as ‘The Car of the Dome.’
The largest exhibitor at the Fair was the Chrysler Corporation, its pavilion and grounds covering over seven acres of land on the Fair site. It included not only the Chrysler Building, but sunken gardens, the Cyclorama, display areas and a race track. The building – considered one of the great showpieces of the Fair – was described in period literature as ‘belonging to the modern idyllistic school of architecture.’
The new Schwinn Streamline Aerocycle was shown in the transportation display.
The design of bicycles and children’s wheeled toys were undoubtedly influenced by the new streamline styles that were becoming popular in America. As a result of the streamlining on display at the 1933/34 Chicago World’s Fair (retrospectively described as art deco), the style entered the public consciousness and created sufficient demand for companies to invest in the wonderful new designs that were seen in children’s tricycles in the mid-thirties.
Radio Flyer history with thanks to –