Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori

Children’s Vehicles: A History of Sleds and Wagons

By Lori Verderame
Posted January 2010

The famous red Radio Flyer.No matter your age, receiving a new vehicle is always exciting. For most of us, there are two modes of transportation that remain synonymous with childhood and wintertime— the sled and the wagon.

Originally, sleds were among the most efficient ways to transport loads in particularly snowy parts of the world. They facilitated the movement of goods and people on frozen surfaces, dating back many centuries. Distinguished by their long and narrow runner blades, sleds reduced friction and were able to carry heavy loads.

Victorian Vehicles. Many of us recall our favorite wintertime pastime of racing down the hills of a neighborhood on our fastest sleds. The tradition of painted sleds boasting hand-colored images of running horses, reindeer or Santa debuted in the Victorian Era, circa mid-1800s. These handsome sleds were used for fancy winter trips for children and adults alike. Around 1800, a sled for carrying people was invented known as a cariole. A cariole featured enclosed sides, a sturdy back, and a partially-covered top. On the secondary antiques market, special 19th Century examples of hand-painted sleds with metal runners and cariole sleds range in value from $200 to $2,000.

Over time, sleds were used for recreational purposes with variations on the basic form. One of the first sled patents was obtained by the S.L. Allen Company of Philadelphia, Penn., in 1889. When it comes to the engineering behind recreational sleds, most had flat runners until about 1907, and then, wooden bumpers emerged. An articulated bumper for steering was introduced in 1928 and straight runners were all the rage until the mid-1930s. One model, called the Lightning Speedster, had a rounded wooden front for easy turning by children sledding during its time of manufacture, circa 1939-1942.

King of the Hill. By the mid-20th Century, speed was king as indicated by the Speed King and Radio Flyer sleds being all about fast-moving wintertime fun. In the American suburbs of the 1950s through the 1970s, many companies introduced cool sleds for hilltop exhilaration. For instance in the 1970s, the Radio Flyer Company marketed the Ski Sled which was intended for adults. The sled had a hand brake for safety and two skis beneath the raised seat for a ride that simulates skiing. The two skis allowed for edge turns, and the sled gave a ride that was like experiencing the slalom.

Wooden wagons remained some of the most inviting vehicles for children of the 20th Century. First originating in the early years of the 1900s, Radio Flyer’s little red wagons are kid favorites today as always. The company was started by Antonio Pasin, an Italian immigrant. Pasin started the firm with the introduction of the Liberty Coaster wagon named for the Statue of Liberty. His firm grew throughout the 20th Century to make Radio Flyer wagons known to millions of children. Radio Flyer’s red wagon became a popular favorite and common gift in wintertime for girls and boys.

By the 1950s, the red wagon became an American icon. At that time, Radio Flyer wagons were marketed to specialty audiences like the Mouseketeers from the Mickey Mouse Club or adventurous kids who wanted to ride in a Davy Crockett-style wagon.

By the end of the 1960s, Radio Flyer had turned 50 and introduced the Skat Racer. The Skat Racer was a new children’s vehicle that offered new innovations where the earlier pedal cars fell short. Kids of the trendy 1960s and 1970s could, in a Skat Racer, enjoy a lightweight design, a safe ride, and a sleek new look. This vehicle was a perfect addition to the host of cool kid toys parked in many suburban America garages. 


Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on Discovery channel’s Auction Kings. To learn about your antiques, visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori, @DrLori on Twitter or Lori Verderame on Google+.

 

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