Champion of justice “The Lone Ranger” and trusty steed Silver rode across the Wild West and into American lore for the first time on this day in history, Jan. 30, 1933.
Lone Ranger was soon joined by Native American sidekick Tonto to become the original crime-fighting dynamic duo of multimedia fame.
The program debuted on WXYZ in Detroit — the first of more than 3,000 radio episodes over the next two decades.
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“‘The Lone Ranger’ was an instant success, and the character became known for his black domino mask, code of honor, signature silver bullets, and horse Silver,” the Smithsonian Institution notes.
“According to his moral code, the Lone Ranger attempts to avoid violence, shooting only to disarm, not kill, and using silver bullets as a reminder of the value of human life.”
The radio show soon found a nationwide audience of millions of listeners. Meant for children, it enjoyed equal appeal among adults.
“During the next 80 years, ‘The Lone Ranger’ would appear in comic strips, television shows and movies, not to mention a vast array of merchandise including action figures, costumes, books and toy guns,” writes Indian Country Times, a news site of indigenous American culture.
“He’s a vigilante lawman … a hero made for radio audiences of the Great Depression.” — NPR
“The show also helped define the TV Western, inspiring dozens of other titles.”
“The Lone Ranger” made its television debut in 1949 and was an early TV-era hit for ABC before ending in 1957. Other TV adaptations followed.
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Lone Ranger and Tonto spawned several series of novels, the first in 1935, and appeared in comic book form for the first time in 1939.
Arnie Hammer starred as Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp played Tonto in the latest of several Hollywood versions of the duo’s adventures in 2013.
Numerous voice and screen actors played the roles over the years.
Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels are most closely associated with Lone Ranger and Tonto for their years of playing the characters on television.
A dramatic back story brought together the masked lawman and his Comanche friend.
“It’s obvious to the child listener that great men have no racial or religious prejudice.” — Fran Striker Jr.
Lone Ranger was one of six Texas Rangers ambushed and gunned down by outlaws.
“After the shooting was over, an Indian man happened upon the scene of the ambush. The ranger, who was wounded but still clinging to life, had saved that Indian from outlaw raiders a few years earlier, when the two were just boys,” writes NPR in a history of the landmark program.
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“The Indian recognized his boyhood companion, carried him to a nearby cave and nursed him back to health. Four days later, the surviving Ranger came to. And he asked his savior what had happened to his comrades. The Indian showed him the graves of the other five Rangers … ‘You only Ranger left … You Lone Ranger.’”
The experience steeled their friendship and commitment to fight crime and proved foundational to the program’s appeal. Lone Ranger wore a mask to help fool arch-enemy Butch Cavendish into believing he was killed in the ambush.
The Lone Ranger was created for radio by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker.
Trendle owned WXYZ and produced the show. Striker created the characters and wrote the script.
They devised the ambush origin story after 10 episodes of the series, when the masked ranger riding alone needed a sidekick to add dialogue to the show
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The main characters presented racial unity in action rather than words — or without the social media grandstanding that prizes preaching over practice that’s so common today.
“If the Lone Ranger accepts the Indian as his closest companion, it’s obvious to the child listener that great men have no racial or religious prejudice,” the creator’s son, Fran Striker Jr., told NPR.
“The Lone Ranger,” among other influences, gifted the nation with several additions to American English.
“Kemosabe,” Tonto’s affectionate word for Lone Ranger, is a colloquial phrase for “friend.”
The word originated in the Ojibwe language.
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Lone Ranger’s yelp of “Hi-yo, Silver!” — heard in each episode — might be uttered before any jaunty, fearless charge into action.
The term “lone ranger” itself is a common American idiom for anyone pursuing something alone.
“I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man.” — Lone Ranger creed
“The Lone Ranger” also helped popularize for generations of Americans “The William Tell Overture,” used as its theme song.
The program’s creators spun off another masked hero, The Green Hornet, who likewise became a superhero of radio, TV, comic books and film.
They gave the vigilante lawman a moral code, commonly known as the Lone Ranger creed, meant to exemplify for troubled Great Depression-era listeners faith in foundational American values.
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“I believe,” Striker wrote on behalf of Lone Ranger, “that to have a friend, a man must be one; that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world; that this government ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’ shall live always.”
Lone Ranger’s creed of 10 values ends with “I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man.”