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December 24, 2008

Radio Flyer Brings Kids on Cloud 9

By Michelle Robart, TMCnet Editor

Most adults, when they reflect back on their childhood, remember being pulled by their parents in a little red wagon. In those days, wagons were nothing more then steel and wood held together with four small, rubber wheels. 

However, the old-school model of yesterday’s wagon is being turned into a music bumping, hip mode of transportation.

Chicago-based Radio Flyer, the well-known brand of that idyllic red wagon, is currently working on developing the Cloud 9, a wagon equipped with more high-tech features than today’s family minivan.
"We approached this product much like an automotive company might with a concept car," said Mark Johnson, Radio Flyer's product development manager.
Equipped with 5-point safety harnesses, padded seats, cup holders, foot brakes and fold-out storage containers, the glossy, curved Cloud 9 has every child covered for a ride through the park.

The Cloud 9 also features a digital handle that tracks temperature, time, distance and speed -- just in case parents want to track their split times around the park. There is even a slot for an MP3 player, complete with speakers, for some cruising tunes.

"Music is such an important part of kids' and families' lives, we thought it would be great to have a speaker system built in the wagon," said Tom Schlegel, vice president of product development.
The Cloud 9 is still a prototype, but it wasn't created on a whim. Before starting out on this project, the company conducted extensive market research and then tested it out on the real experts-- families at home.
"We sit down [and] observe how moms and kids are using our products," said Schlegel. "That's where our new ideas come from."
To create those ideas, Radio Flyer's designers are using the most advanced technology, including Wacom Cintiq graphic tablets, which allow them to draw directly onto digital renderings of new products.
Radio Flyer also has its own in-house computer numerical control, or CNC, machines that create prototypes on-site.
The company must be doing something right to maintain its nearly 90 years of success. Even in today’s tough economy, where businesses and families are both cutting back on spending, the company is still going strong.
"Radio Flyer survived the Great Depression, and this year has been a difficult year for a lot of companies," Schlegel says, "But Radio Flyer is actually growing this year. We're actually looking for engineers and designers in our product development group to keep up with the growth of the company."
Radio Flyer was established by Antonio Pasin, an Italian immigrant who started building wooden toy wagons in 1917. Pasin was not very successful in his inital venture, but he was encouraged enough to start the Liberty Coaster Company in 1923.
The company changed names seven years later to Radio Steel & Manufacturing. The world was introduced that same year to the first steel wagon, the infamous Radio Flyer. Since then, Radio Flyer has become possibly the world's most famous maker of wagons, tricycles and other toys.
The company’s well-known red wagon even inspired a 1992 movie to be produced, called "Radio Flyer.” This movie was about a boy who imagines transforming his red wagon into a flying machine to help his little brother escape from an abusive stepdad.
Even though today’s kids are growing up with Guitar Hero and Nintendo Wii, the little red wagon still remains as a childhood foundation for many. The innovative minds behind Radio Flyer should keep the coming around for many years to come.
"One of the most important things about Radio Flyer products is that they really help [keep kids active outdoors]," Schlegel said. "So when we're designing our products, we're really looking at how can we get kids outside and playing, away from the video games and TV screens and computer screens."


Michelle Robart is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Michelle's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Michelle Robart

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