A Christmas Story: The Red Ryder BB Gun

By | December 2, 2021

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Peter Billingsley sits on Santa's lap in a scene from the film 'A Christmas Story,' 1983. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

Although the classic holiday movie A Christmas Story is packed full of noteworthy and quote-worthy nuggets, at the center of it all is young Ralphie's burning desire for a Red Ryder BB Gun, the most coveted toy for young boys in 1940s Indiana. There was a reason why young Ralphie wanted this particular BB gun. It was—and still is—the best.

The Company Started Out Making Windmills

The Red Ryder BB Gun is made by the Daisy Outdoor Products, which was founded in 1886 as the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company, a manufacturer of iron windmills for farm use. The company distinguished itself from the competition by offering freebie items to the farm families that bought their windmills, and one of them was a newfangled metal air rifle. (As an added bonus, it could be used by salesmen to demonstrate the durability of the newly installed windmill blades.) By 1888, the air rifle had become more popular than the windmills, so Plymouth rebranded with a new name inspired by a customer who exclaimed, using the hip slang of the day, "Boy, that's a daisy!" after trying out the air rifle.

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Steel BBs with copper or zinc jackets. (Hustvedt/Wikimedia Commons)

BBs Are A Unit of Measurement

Pop quiz: What does BB stand for? It's not "ball bearing" or "ball bullet." A BB is actually a unit of measurement assigned to the 0.180-inch lead shot. Smaller than buckshot, BB shots were better suited for shooting pheasants, ducks, and other game birds. When Daisy got into the air rifle business, they developed their own specialty-size lead shot that was smaller than the standard BB at 0.175 inches and tried to get the term "air rifle shot" to stick, but folks stubbornly called the ammo BBs.