To figure out the story behind one of America’s classic childhood toys, we have to start in Venice, Italy, the homeland Antonio Pasin left behind in 1914. The teenager and his cousin landed at Ellis Island the same year, intent to turn their woodworking skills into careers as cabinetmakers.
By 1917, Pasin was honing his skills on hand-carved wagons when he wasn’t working odd jobs to get start-up cash for his business. After a few years of pounding the pavement selling his wagons door-to-door, Pasin was able to make the company official. Pasin named his fledgling business Liberty Coaster Wagon to express his thanks to the country that had welcomed him and fostered his success.
It wasn’t long before the fast-selling wagons inspired other products, and by 1927 the Liberty Coaster Wagon company was making tricycles, wooden scooters, and a metal version of Pasin's hand-carved masterpiece.
Every kid wanted a Liberty Coaster Wagon; demand was through the roof. Pasin knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up if he and his staff kept carving their products, so he made the logical decision to shift his focus to the steel wagons. Because Pasin’s two favorite inventions were the radio and the airplane (this was all happening in the middle of the Charles Lindbergh craze), the metal version of the wagon was dubbed the Radio Flyer. Even during the Great Depression, Pasin and his crew cranked out 1,500 Radio Flyers every day.
The company was renamed after its best-selling product in 1987, and today, Pasin’s grandsons are at the helm. The design of the Classic Red Wagon has barely changed, though these days the company also makes all-terrain wagons and sport utility wagons. The latter is the model we have at our house (see gratuitous baby picture).
This post originally appeared in 2011.