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The History of Flexible Flyer Sleds

The Flexible Flyer Sled was created by inventor Samuel Leeds Allen, the founder of S.L. Allen & Co., who had already made a name for himself inventing and manufacturing agricultural tools and machinery. When he wasn’t working on his many inventions, Allen was a winter sports enthusiast, both when he was a child himself and as an adult with his own children. Just as he did with other neighborhood children in his own youth, Allen regularly constructed slopes and courses for his children to sled on near their family home in rural New Jersey. Born out of a desire to create a steerable sled for recreation and a need to find a less seasonal item to manufacture at his business, Allen began experimenting with sled designs. His first attempt was the Fairy Coaster in 1887. Unfortunately, it was costly to produce and outside the price range of most Americans. So Allen made multiple attempts to simplify his design. On his third try, he succeeded, and the Flexible Flyer was born in 1888. Steerable, affordable, fast, and lightweight, it was the first sled of its kind. However, Flexible Flyers were not an instant success. Because they looked so different from existing sleds and toboggans, retailers were reluctant to purchase and stock them. Allen was even advised to sell the patent, but he held out. As cultural factors shifted and outdoor leisure time took on greater significance around the turn of the century, Allen saw his chance. He advertised his sleds heavily and his gambit paid off — by the 1910s, Flexible Flyer sleds had become wildly popular and Flexible Flyer was the best-known sled brand in the country. Allen picked up additional patents related to his sleds in the early 1900s and also trademarked the Flexible Flyer name and the famous “the sled that steers” slogan, which he used in his advertising campaigns. Today, Flexible Flyer sleds are still being manufactured and enjoyed by sledding enthusiasts all over America.

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