Due to the incredible decades long popularity of the Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun it is forgivable to assume the comic character Red Ryder was derived from it.
The truth, however, is exactly the opposite.
Having grown up on a Pagosa Springs, Colorado ranch Fred Harman had firsthand experience living the “cowboy way.” Between ranching chores he and his two brothers practiced their sketching and art skills. At age 20, Fred and his brothers moved to Kansas City where they found employment as animators at the Kansas City Film Ad Company. There they worked side by side with none other than legend Walt Disney. Fred even partnered with Walt on one of his early startups, Kaycee Studios. Kaycee Studios eventually went bankrupt prompting Walt and two of the Harman brothers seek their fortunes in California. Fred, however, returned to Colorado and launched a western comic strip called Bronc Peeler.
During a 1938 business trip to New York City, Fred sketched out his concept for a Red Ryder comic strip. The samples caught the attention of Stephen Slesinger, a savvy creative promoter. He not only got Red Ryder syndicated with the Newspaper Enterprise Association but also sold the movie rights before the strips even began to run!
The strip debuted nationally in 20 newspapers on Sunday, November 6, 1938 and a daily soon followed (March 27, 1939). The stories featured characters Red Ryder, girlfriend Beth Wilder, arch enemy Ace Hanlon, sidekick Little Beaver, aunt “the Duchess,” ranch hand Buckskin Blodgett and horse Thunder. At its height, Red Ryder was published in over 750 newspapers worldwide and translated in ten different languages.
In March 1939 Dell published reprints of the strips in Crackajack Funnies #9-#35.
- In 1940, Republic Pictures made a 12-chapter Red Ryder movie serial.
- On February 23, 1942 a nationally syndicated Red Ryder radio show first aired and continued for nearly a decade.
- In 1956 there was a Red Ryder television show that lasted for 39 episodes.
In September 1940 Dell published the self-titled Red Ryder Comics series. It ran for nearly 11 years and 151 issues (until April 1951). The first 46 issues were strip reprints. Subsequent issues contained original material with inside stories frequently ghosted by other artists.
However, it wasn’t just through Red Ryder Comics that Red Ryder made an indelible imprint on readers of Golden Age of comics. On the back cover of thousands of separate comic titles, issues from multiple publishers over decades carried the advertisement for Red Ryder Daisy Air Rifles.
None of Slesinger’s cross-promotional deals could match the unprecedented success of the deal with Daisy Air Rifles. Daisy’s Red Ryder was introduced in 1940 with Fred Harmon’s name etched right there on the stock. In 1949 alone over one million Daisy Red Ryder’s were sold. To this day Daisy continues manufacturing the Red Ryder air rifle, in 2020 releasing its 80th year anniversary edition. The partnership holds the record for the longest-lasting licensing agreement in history.
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