Samuel Leeds Allen (1841-1918) was a man of diverse talents. Credited with more than 300 patents, his interests ran the gamut from astronomy to farming to winter sports. In 1868, perhaps buoyed by winning his first two patents (for the No. 1 and No. 2 Planet Jr. seed drills), Allen launched his own company, S.L. Allen & Co., Philadelphia. He is said to have built a fertilizer drill by riveting two washbasins together rim to rim and adding a wooden tire and handles. An amateur stargazer, he noticed the device’s resemblance to the planet Saturn and called his invention the ‘Planet Drill.’ When he later created a smaller, seed-dropping version of the drill, he named it ‘Planet Jr.’ Allen was a clever inventor and astute businessman. In just 13 years his company became a leader in farm and garden implements here and abroad. The Planet Jr. line was displayed at the Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and the 1889 International Exposition in Paris.
A progressive entrepreneur, Allen was among the first American industrialists to offer disability and retirement plans to his workforce. A major expansion of the company’s Penn Junction plant in North Philadelphia in 1913 modernized mechanical and power systems. The updated plant also included facilities for worker use, such as a meeting hall, dining hall and a dispensary staffed by a full-time nurse.
Samuel Allen was issued a patent for the Flexible Flyer sled on August 13, 1889. His company already manufactured a wide range of agricultural machinery, including the fertilizer drill, seed drill, potato digger, cultivator, furrower, pulverizer, grass edger and numerous other farm implements. But to diversify his product line and provide work to his employees during the winter, he wanted a new product that could be sold during the winter.
At first, the sleds did not sell well. But he soon offered them to department stores, and sales took off. In 1915, around 120,000 flexible fliers were sold, with almost 2,000 flexible flyers were sold in one day.
1935-1940s Mickey Mouse Flexible Flyer Sled
Model No 80
Disney licensed only a few wheeled toys and associated products in the 1930s to display the Mickey Mouse character. S.L Allen & Co was a leading manufacturer of sleds, with contracts with major department stores, and the Flexible Flyer was already very popular with customers. So presumably Disney saw it as a good marketing opportunity. The majority of sleds sold in winter in the USA were larger, suitable for 10-15 year old children, whereas this Model 80 Flexible Flyer is a smaller 30″ long sled, suitable for children around six-eight years old.
S.L ALLEN FLEXIBLE FLYER PATENT: 13th August, 1889