Positively Chicago: Radio Flyer

(CBS) — Chances are it has rolled through your life. The All-American red Radio Flyer wagon is celebrating its 100th birthday, born in Chicago.

“At its core, the iconic wagon is a vehicle of the imagination,” company Chief Wagon Officer Robert Pasin tells CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole at the company’s Far West Side office.

“At a very early age I fell in love with my grandfather’s story.”

Near the turn of the century, Antonio Pasin came to the U.S. from Northern Italy, his modest family selling their mule to pay for passage. By 1917, the furniture maker was crafting phonograph cabinets.

“He also made a little wooden wagon to haul tools around in the shop, and before long he was selling more wagons than phonograph cabinets,” Pasin says.

In 1933, the World’s Fair was headed to Chicago, so his grandfather went into debt to build a towering pavilion to sell his wagon.

“He saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity when the eyes of the world would be on Chicago,” Robert Pasin says.

The wagon was christened a Radio Flyer because at the time radios and flight were cutting-edge concepts. To keep them affordable, Pasin relied on the automated metal stamping techniques of the auto industry.

“This earned my grandfather the nickname Little Ford because he did for wagons what Ford did for cars.”

All these years later, the company’s out-of-the-box creative types work to keep the Flyer fresh.

“Our newest wagon folds up so it’s very easy and compact,” Pasin says.

“We look for how people are using our products in daily life, so we’ll  go to peoples’ homes and actually see how they are using our wagons,” Tom Schlegel, senior vice president of product design, says.

A 2006 innovation came from observing parents draping towels over their kids. Now, Radio Flyer makes canopies.

With days off to volunteer and flexible work schedules, the company is often named one of the nation’s best places to work.

“My grandfather was an immigrant, and he came from humble beginnings,” Pasin says. “He felt part of being in business was to create a workplace that gave back.”

Radio Flyer employs 70 people locally and has won over 100 product awards.

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