Kids on wheels can thank a Chicago entrepreneur

By Caryl Clem:

Chicago hosted the World’s Fair in 1933 where businessmen showcased their products hoping for worldwide approval. A young Italian immigrant had first designed a wagon in 1917 named Liberty Coaster to honor his first impression of landing in New York. He came to Chicago hoping to own his own business, working his way up in the world by various jobs that including washing celery to sell.  By the 1930’s in Elmwood, his manufacturing firm was expanding producing his renamed wagon, The Radio Flyer.

Antonio bravely risked most of his money to grow his business as he made plans for the Chicago World’s Fair. He and another immigrant friend constructed a giant boy and his wagon for his exhibit. Antonio Pasin passed out toy wagons for 25 cents each to future customers interested in his product.  After this business venture, he became famous and firmly established his company’s image to be part of every child’s future.

Through the decades, this wagon worked its way into parents and kids worlds mixing fantasy and reality. Radio Flyers had featured specials from Disney star specials to the 1950’s model I used, “Town and Country.” I delivered papers, transported flower pots and found countless uses for my wagon. I even trained my dog to take rides as I pulled the wagon.  Antonio had a flair for appealing to his customer base by clever advertising. I recall a slogan in the 1950’s , “The only wagon to outsell the Ford station wagon”.The product line kept evolving adding scooters, tricycles, and plastic replaces metal by 1994.

The current CEO is a grandson of the Pasin founder who turned a sagging business in the late 1990’s into a powerhouse that still rocks with success selling in the 100 million dollar range.  Robert Pasin enacted product development as the main focus, researching how the product was used by the consumer. In 2011, a Play Lab with a test tract was installed in the Chicago main office. “Radio Flyer offers nice perks: flex time, parties for employees and their families, a wellness reimbursement program, an exercise room, and a garden with a walking path at Chicago headquarters.

Last year, Crain’s Business Chicago ranked the company the seventh-best place to work in the city, calling out its employee incentives and philanthropic efforts. Radio Flyer donates thousands of wagons to local and national charities.

I don’t think you can outgrow the love of a wagon ride so as Spring Days are rapidly approaching, it is time to get your Radio Flyer Wagons out of hibernation.

Canfield soda along with potato chips: Jays, of course

I googled his shop, my fathers, Glass Sales and Service shop, at 6755 South Chicago Avenue. It looked like it had been torn down. But across the street the decrepit remains of Canfield Soda still stood; a company that also progressed along with my Dad. Though I am not sure the details, my Dad did business with AJ canfield back in day always bringing home free cans of 50/50/ a mixture of grape and lime.

Many were introduced to soda by drinking ginger ale, inspired from Canada, and 50/50. The older Canfield was a railroad worker, prior to beginning the company in 1927, with his son who was known as AJ. AJ was 25 years old when he took over the company and they expanded to another facility at 89th street in Chicago. Canfield’s Chocolate Diet Fudge soda was created in 1972 and sold over 200 million cans. In 1995, the A.J. Canfield Company was sold though you can still purchase both sodas at Marianos. AJ passed away at the age of 84 in 2000.

Jays Foods was also founded in 1927 with the beginnings of Leonard Japp Sr selling pretzels from his truck. Eugenia, Mrs Japp, had a potato chip recipe and Leonard along with a partner began selling Mrs. Japps Potato Chips. However, after World War II, that was changed since the name Jap created a negative connotation. The chips were changed to Jays Potato Chips while the company became Jays Foods. Jays was sold to Borden but acquired back to the Japp family in 1994 and sold again to a Chicago equity firm and another snack company. Finally, the company filed bankruptcy in 2007 and the Chicago plant was closed but Snyder’s-Lance continues to manufacture and distribute the product.

Japp died in 2000 at ninety-six and according to South Side Weekly, Al Capone encouraged Japp to open factories and mass produce his snacks. My father commented that the mob, during the 1930’s, truly stepped in to help small, creative business starting out in Chicago after the depression. I think he did some work for them though he would never share.

The chips were produced by state of the art machines at the plant on 99th Street and Cottage Grove, opened in the mid 1950s. According to Made in Chicago Museum, Japp offered profit sharing to employees, daily lunches and even served lunches to neighborhood kids.

Most grocery stores still stock Jays and Canfields, but are they the same? Canfield bottles compared to cans? Jays was actually sold in large tins in the fifties and today you can buy vintage potato chip tins of all types on Ebay….including Jays. Or trade yours in for a price.

I was never a consistent lover of soda or potato chips over the years but if it was a home grown Chicago business, you had to buy and love them.