Radio Flyer celebrates 100th birthday in Chicago

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CHICAGO -- It was a larger than life party, in Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue on Sunday.

Hundreds came out, even the mayor, to celebrate Chicago's very own Radio Flyer, in the shadow of the world’s largest wagon. Its roots are planted several miles west at the company’s headquarters on Chicago’s West Side by an  Italian immigrant named Antonio Pasin.

"He came to Chicago in 1914 at the age of 16 and one of the first things he made was this phonograph cabinet," his grandson said.

On Radio Flyer’s 100th birthday, it’s Pasin's grandson, Robert Pasin, who now runs the business. The chief wagon officer, he calls himself, the head of what’s become an American icon, that began by chance.

"He had made a wooden wagon to haul tools around the workshop and pretty soon he was selling more wagons than phonograph cabinets so like any entrepreneur he chased what worked and he named the first wagon the Liberty Coaster because the first thing he saw when he came to america was the Statue of Liberty and he was really inspired by that," Robert Pasin said.

It wasn’t until years later when Pasin first came up with Radio Flyer, the Little Red Wagon.

"In the late 20s, Radio was the cool high tech invention and Flyer because of Lindbergh and flight so they were just two really cool buzz words that had nothing to do with the wagon," Robert Pasin said.

What’s easy to see now, is the success of the Little Red Wagon but getting there took guts and a big risk.  That Italian immigrant put everything on the line at just the right moment to give his company the push it needed.

It was Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair. Antonio Pasin paid for a massive display that his grandson said was the biggest risk of his grandpa’s life.

"Because when he came to America, he really had nothing to lose and when he built that exhibit, he had a business, he had a family, he had a home, and I think it’s because he really believed in the potential of Radio Flyer and he believed in himself and it was a big success," he said.

One hundred years after building that first wagon, Radio Flyer is still riding high, with dozens of products that still look into the future, including a partnership with Tesla to build smaller versions of the electric car for kids.

"Our goal was to do something new in the kids car market," Robert Pasin said.

And though times have changed, and the headquarters brought into the future with modern touches, it’s still a family owned Chicago business that, three generations in, continues to look into the future.

"We want to be in business for another 100 years. We want to stay relevant to consumers and families, keep on innovating. We think Radio Flyer can do anything with wheels for kids anything around outdoor active play and that’s where we’re headed," he said.

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