A Christmas Story … Myth?

You know what hurts? When you find out your favorite heart-warming fictional stories aren’t true. Such is the case, at least in part, with A Christmas Story. The iconic 1983 film tells the story, among others, of nine-year-old Ralphie Parker’s Christmas wish for an “official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” One problem. That Daisy Red Ryder didn’t exist—and never had.

Daisy fun facts

As iconic as the Daisy name is by now, forever associated with the cowboy-style BB gun coveted by adventurous kids everywhere, the company kinda “spun” into the BB gun business.

In 1882, The Plymouth Iron Windmill Company began making iron windmills for farmers in Plymouth, Michigan. Four years later, the company was foundering and on the verge of shutting down. However, Michigan watchmaker and inventor Clarence Hamilton had designed and constructed an all-metal air gun. When Plymouth General Manager Lewis Cass Hough tested fired the BB gun, he gleefully exclaimed, “Boy, that’s a Daisy!” With his support, the windmill company used the BB rifle as a premium to boost windmill sales—a free air rifle with each windmill purchase.

Before long, the company was making more airguns than windmills and, by 1895, had stopped making windmills altogether. And Daisy was born, setting up a future gleeful Christmas for young Ralphie Parker.

Daisy BB gun from Plymouth Windmill Company
The BB Gun that made a company. Plymouth Windmill’s all-metal BB rifle.

Red Ryder or Buck Jones?

While no one ever accused Hollywood of getting too worked out about factual reality, the creators of A Christmas Story did put the Daisy folks in a bit of a pickle. Writers had concocted the feature set of Ralphie’s dream rifle, perhaps based on childhood memories or perhaps out of thin air. In either case, there was no such Red Ryder model with “a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.”

In the past, the company had manufactured a Buck Jones model, which did include a compass. It even had a rudimentary sundial carved into the buttstock. The idea was to insert a match or toothpick into a groove to create the shadow. So, technically speaking, this one most certainly did have “this thing that tells time.” Loaded with all these technological wonders, the Buck Jones rifle sold for $2.93 in the 1930s and 40s.

Birth of an imaginary BB rifle

Not a company to pass up an obvious opportunity, Daisy agreed to make a custom run of Red Ryders equipped with the compass and sundial for use in the movie. A whopping six BB rifles were made, one of which was later given to actor Peter Billingsley (Ralphie), while the others landed with various production assistants. Back in 2015 or so, the Christmas Story House & Museum found one of the six and purchased it to round out their movie memorabilia collection.

Since then, Daisy has launched production runs of “Christmas Wish” and “Christmas Dream” Red Ryders. It’s not too late; you can buy the 40th (movie) Anniversary edition from the Daisy Museum.

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  1. Wait just a minute, I was around in the 1940s and was old enough to want a bb gun like the Red Ryder. I don’t remember if it had a name, but it was shaped like a Winchester Model 94 with the undertube being the magazine just like on the ’94. Instead, I got the cheaper version that didn’t look like anything and was a single shot to boot. It didn’t have a magazine at all! One had to load the bb’s one at a time down the muzzle. My old man had been in the army when they were still hung up on one single shot at a time. Remember the magazine cut off on the 03 and 03A3? He believed a single shot was all one needed. Well, perhaps if one is hunting one deer at a time but when one is fending off a banzai attack one needs more than a single shot rifle. Ask the Marines why the M-1 was so much more popular on Guadalcanal than the 03A3 that the Marines went ashore with. So I can attest that there definitely was a Daisy bb gun that looked like the Model 94. As far as I know it did not have a compass nor a clock. It did have a saddle ring and came with a genuwine leather thong. All the cool kids had the Red Ryder model.

    • You were a fan right at the beginning! As I recall, Red Ryders came out around 1938. There just wasn’t one with a compass and sundial – that was the Buck Jones model around the same time. Funny you mention the single shot, I was just tinkering with a Daisy 499B today. They call it the Championship model, and it’s for 5-meter competition. You cock it, put it on safe, and roll a single BB down the barrel 🙂

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