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.
The Radio Flyer Wagon also branched out during the 1950s from its traditional wooden and red steel motifs to different colors and themes. Perhaps two of the most famous Radio Flyer wagons from this period were the Davy Crockett wagon, which was a light tan inspired by Disney’s Davy Crockett, and the blue Mouseketeer wagon.
Radio Steel & Manufacturing Co (creator of the Radio Flyer) made Disney wagons from 1956 – 1959.
There were three items offered:
1. The Mouseketeer Express: bright orange wagon with Pluto & Mickey Mouse on the side
2. The Mouseketeer Coaster: turquose blue (like yours) with Donald Duck pulling Huey and Dewey in a wagon, with Louie trailing behind.
3. The Mouseketeer Scooter; red with large Mouseketeer emblem on front of the streamline little scooter.
c1935 Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer Western Prairie Wagon
The Mouseketeer wagons sold as a result of the TV series – televised from 1955 to 1959 – were Radio Flyers. Comparing this example with the Radio Flyer advert at the top of the page, its style appears to predate the era of the TV series.
It’s actually connected with the earlier theatre-based Mickey Mouse Club which started in 1930 and was a variety show for children. By 1932, the club had 1 million members; however Walt Disney phased out the club in 1935. I’ve not found any adverts for this style of wagon, but the 1937 Mickey Mouse ‘streamline’ wagons are quite different. So I assume this Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer Wagon to be from 1935.
MICKEY MOUSE CLUB: From Theatre to TV
Heads of Hollywood movie studios regarded the onset of television with the same fear they had once shown for radio (until sound-recording for film was perfected). And as with radio, it was the manufacturers of the equipment, not the entertainment industry, that were driving the new medium. Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which owned NBC, the largest radio network, began experimental television broadcasts around 1935-36. These were brief demonstrations, intended for a select viewing audience, for the short range of television signals and lack of commercially-available sets meant only a few people could see them.
Walt Disney first encountered television during one of these demonstrations put on by NBC founder David Sarnoff in Camden, New Jersey in 1936. Impressed, he agreed to let Mickey Mouse cartoons be used for test transmissions. It was a fascinating toy, but he didn’t then see an immediate use for it. Still, he recognized there would come a time when it would be valuable, for in 1936 he severed his studio’s distribution agreement with United Artists, largely over control of future television rights to Disney films.
As industry returned to manufacturing consumer goods in the postwar years the economies of scale that followed increasing production of television sets resulted in them finally becoming affordable to middle-class households. Private ownership of television sets in the United States increased from 44,000 in 1946 to three million by 1950. Regularly scheduled commercial television broadcasting is held to have begun in the United States in 1948, with New York as the principal production center for programs as it was for radio.
Well aware of this trend Walt Disney commissioned a study by research firm C. J. LaRoche to explore the possibilities of the studio using television. The LaRoche report, delivered in September 1950, confirmed the number of homes owning television sets had increased to the point where it made sense to use television as a promotional medium.
Roy Disney made a proposal to ABC in September 1953 about doing a weekly television series and investing in Disneyland. The agreement, co-signed April 4, 1954, by ABC president Robert Kintner and Roy Disney, was a three-year deal with an option for four additional years.
Disneyland, which premiered October 1954, was the first ABC series to crack the top twenty-five rated shows, finishing sixth for the 1954-55 season. It provided over half of ABC’s advertising revenue that year, with each episode (originals and reruns) generating $70,000 in sponsor fees for the network. But even before it reached the air, Kintner and Goldenson knew they would want another Disney-produced television show.
Network daytime programming in 1954-55 was dominated by NBC and CBS. ABC had no programs earlier than primetime. Looking over the alternate show suggestions provided by Bill Cottrell, Kintner didn’t see anything that could challenge the other networks during the day, but he thought that with some tweaking the Mickey Mouse Club might capture the first hour of “swingtime”, the two hour interval (5pm-7pm) between daytime and primetime. Leonard Goldenson, the father of three young daughters, also thought the Mickey Mouse Club offered the best chance of exploiting a niche market under-served by the competition.
Bill Cottrell’s original outline for the show had been based on Walt Disney’s handwritten notes from summer 1953. These in turn hearkened back to the local Mickey Mouse Club’s of the 1930’s, encompassing club-style activities. The show would be a live fifteen-minute daily, originating from a club house on an island in Disneyland, using an audience of kids made up of park visitors.
During the summer of 1954 with Disneyland in production for it’s October 1954 debut, Walt Disney had revisited his notes of the previous year for The Mickey Mouse Club. He added the idea of a club show with child performers, the best of whom would appear on Disneyland and eventually go on national live tour. When Walt later prepared a memo for Bill Walsh on December 8, 1954, he reiterated many of his ideas of that summer for The Mickey Mouse Club, but didn’t mention child performers.
So how did the The Mickey Mouse Club go from a live fifteen-minutes to a pre-recorded one hour show? The decision, like the choice of the show itself, seems to have come from ABC. Robert Kintner wrote Walt Disney on December 16, 1954 that the network was asking to exercise its option under their agreement to broadcast The Mickey Mouse Club for the coming season, and wanted to know if Disney could handle it. His letter spelled out the broadcasting parameters and sponsor requirements in detail. The show was to be one-hour in length, broadcast daily from 5-6 pm, with advertising sold to sponsors in fifteen-minute blocks. The target audience was identified primarily as children from three to fourteen, with mothers as a secondary audience.
Roy Disney later said the Disney brothers didn’t know much about television financing when they first got into that business. Harvard Law School graduate Leonard Goldenson had signed them to a deal which, while it gave them what they sought in the short-term, later became increasingly distasteful as they realized what had been given away (which is how the Mouseketeers would come to feel about the contracts given them by those same two brothers). From the benefit of many years distance though, this deal would prove to be of immense value to Disney, giving it the money to make over two hundred fifty hours of original programming that would reap profits for it over and over for decades to come.
1937 MICKEY MOUSE WAGONS
1935 FLEXIBLE FLYER MICKEY MOUSE SLED
Radio Flyer history with thanks to –
Mickey Mouse Club history with thanks to –