In 1886 the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company of Plymouth, Michigan made windmills for farmers, but sales were poor and the company was near to closing until a manager convinced the Board of Directors to try offering a bonus to customers. Sometime earlier, this manager had been out shooting a popular BB gun of the day and pleased with it, shouted to all, “Boy, that’s a Daisy!” Plymouth soon began giving out this same BB gun with the purchase of a windmill. Popularity of this bonus was huge, with customers more interested in the “Daisy” than a windmill. Response was so great that the company shifted focus from windmills to air guns and by 1890 twenty-five employees were producing 50,000 guns a year, most of them distributed within a radius of a hundred miles. The company eventually became Daisy Outdoor Products and in 1958 moved from Michigan to Rogers, Arkansas. Their success multiplied year after year but it was one particular tie-in that eventually made the Daisy BB gun legend.
Publisher and comic syndicator Stephen Slesinger met artist Fred Harman in 1938 and lured him from Hollywood to New York. The two worked together for a full year before Harman’s Red Ryder comic strip was ready for syndication. Slesinger guided Harman and his comic strip through a carefully planned campaign of merchandising and licensing, with the Red Ryder comic strip soon boosted by an endless flow of comic books, novels, serials, radio programs, rodeos, commercial tie-ins and licensed products. One such product was the Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun, which remains the longest continuous license in the history of the licensing industry.
Beginning November 6, 1938, Red Ryder was syndicated by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, expanding over the years to 750 newspapers, translations into ten languages and a readership in the US of 14 million. The 26-year run of the strip came to an end in 1964.
In Harman’s story, Red Ryder was a tough cowboy who lived at Painted Valley Ranch in the San Juan Mountain Range with his aunt, the Duchess, and his Indian boy sidekick, Little Beaver. On a big horse called Thunder, Red often took off to wrangle with bad guys, taking along Little Beaver on his horse, Papoose. Little Beaver spoke lines like, “Spinach heap good. Me like’m!” and “Me so tired now my legs hurt-um!” or “You betchum!” Other characters in the story were Painted Valley ranch hand, Buckskin Blodgett, Red’s lady friend Beth and bad guy Ace Hanlon.
I didn’t see a great many of the Red Ryder movies, but I did read the comic strip in the Sunday paper and seated on the floor of Griffith’s Drugs with a bottle of strawberry pop after school, I must have read a ton of the comic books. Memory is not too sharp, but it seems we also saw a few of the Red Ryder serials at Saturday morning movies. Like every other boy in the neighborhood I had my trusty old Red Ryder BB gun. First introduced in 1940, popularity of the Daisy Red Ryder blossomed over the years giving the BB gun legendary status. The current model is the spitting image of the BB gun many of us cherished in boyhood. The Daisy Red Ryder resembles a Winchester rifle commonly seen in western movies, a design very probably responsible for much of its popularity.
It is a lever-action, spring piston air gun with a smooth bore barrel, adjustable iron sights, and a gravity feed magazine with a 650 BB capacity. The special feature is a ‘Red Ryder’ engraved stock and a saddle ring with a leather thong. The one I ordered recently from Amazon is the 1938B model, first produced in 1980, with the shot tube replaced with a loading door and the addition of a new safety. Shoots like dream.