A Thumbnail Look At Tonka History | Streater | Mound Metalcraft
Streater Industries, prior to WWII, was in the lumber business. During the war, they successfully bid on a contract to supply the United States government with wood ammunition boxes. The scrap generated was turned into kids toys. In an email I received from R. L. (Dick) Streater, He recalls that E. C. (Edward) Streater, then President of Streater Industries, showed samples of a wagon and scooter to a buyer at Firestone and was given an order for several thousand. The toy sales helped keep Streater Industries viable during the war. After the war, Streater Industries continued to grow their wooden toy line, an example being the all wood steam shovel, the predecessor to the all steel, Streater Industries, model #100.
WWII ended in May 1945. For the entrepreneur, it was time to invest in the future. Consumer demand for most household staples, would be on the rise. From automobiles to zebra skin coats, it was time for the players to step up. It was early in 1947 and Edward (Ed) Streater was anxious to show off his companies newest steel toys. He made arrangements to go to New York City in 1947 to attend the 44th American Toy Fair. Toy Fair turned out to be a bust as Ed came home disenchanted by the cool reception his steel toys received. On the heels of the less than enthusiastic demand for his Steam Shovel and Crane & Clam, the tooling was put into storage. It didn't stay out of sight for very long.
Mound Metalcraft Incorporated was formed on September 18, 1946 by Lynn Baker, Alvin Tesch and Avery Crounse. The business model for their new company was to manufacture closet accessories; tie racks and lawn and garden implements; rakes, hoes, shovels and the like. They also wanted to offer their steel stamping capabilities to several small companies in the area around Mound. Lynn Baker was actively looking for a space to set up their manufacturing company. Fate was about to step in. Read a 1953 interview with Lynn Baker
During lunch with Edward Streater, Lynn Baker learned that Streater's Mound plant was for sale. For $7500, a deal was struck and Mound Metalcraft purchased what had been, prior to one of Streater's manufacturing plants, a three story school building. All three floors were utilized. A portion of the top floor was occupied by manufacturing (assembly) and the remainder was occupied by company staff and administration. The first floor was home to sub-assembly and the tool room. The metal stamping presses and paint department were located in the basement.
During the course of negotiations for the purchase of Streater's Mound plant, Mound Metalcraft became aware of the new steel toys Ed had designed and after much due diligence, offered to purchase the tooling. A deal was done. The opportunity to manufacture steel toys, as envisioned by Edward C. Streater, son of L.E. Streater would soon be in the hands of Mound Metalcraft. The tooling for two pressed steel toys was soon purchased from Streater Industries that would become Tonka's model #100 Steam Shovel and #150 Crane & Clam. The tooling for both the Steam Shovel and Crane & Clam was modified/revised to meet Mound Metalcraft's requirements. To learn more about Streater Industries and their steel steam shovel CLICK HERE. Mound Metalcraft and the Tonka Toys brand name was on the map.
Following the introduction of the Steam Shovel in 1947 and the Crane & Clam in 1948 were the 1:18 scale trucks that would establish the Tonka brand as a player in the growing pressed steel toy industry. If the Tonka brand wanted to compete with the likes of Buddy L, Marx, Nylint, Structo, Wyandotte and others, it had to diversify the models being offered. To that end, Dump trucks, Wreckers, Semis, and Box Vans all made their initial appearance prior to 1955.
In mid 1955, Mound Metalcraft moved into a new manufacturing facility that was required to handle their ever increasing product line and an insatiable appetite by consumers for Tonka trucks. In very short order, a 50,000 square foot addition was added to the new manufacturing facility. Tonka Toys indeed was on the grow. Read a 1956 article that was featured in TOYS and NOVELTIES magazine. Although the Tonka Toys name appeared on all products manufactured by Mound Metalcraft from 1947 on, Mound Metalcraft, Inc. did not change its name to Tonka Toys, Inc. until January 3, 1956. The future really looked bright and for the next 25 years or so, Tonka Toys continued to grow. The road was not always smooth. There were a few bumps along the way; management changes, recessions and the like. But Tonka Toys persevered.
Fast forward to 1982. Remember, this is a brief history. In a major blow to Tonka's Minnesota workforce, steel truck manufacturing began to move from Mound to El Paso, Texas in 1982 with the transfer of equipment and production completed in 1983. In 1991, Tonka Toys was purchased by Hasbro Incorporated, the second largest toy company in the U.S.A. In 1998, still under the watchful eye of Hasbro, steel truck manufacturing moved completely out of the United States to locations in mainland China. In today's global manufacturing environment, "Made in the U.S.A." tends to take a backseat if it affects the bottom line. Fast forward one more time to May 10, 2014. The Tonka brand is still part of the Hasbro family and is still being manufactured in China. The once mighty Tonka brand has been diluted with plastic trucks with funky faces, secured in bubble packs and hung on a hook at toy retailers across the U.S.A.
The old school is long gone. The factory in Mound looks much the same as it did when the doors closed in 1982 except it is home to multiple tenants. The factory in El Paso, to include administrative offices, plastic blow and injection molding presses, steel stamping presses, steel parts sub assembly, four paint lines, and multiple final assembly and packaging lines, raw steel, bulk plastic and in process parts storage, was purchased by El Paso Community College for administrative offices. The property where the finished goods were warehoused and distributed, with over 500,000 square feet under roof storage, was sold, completely torn down, and is now the home of a new upscale mall (opened in late 2013).
Tonka Toys is "Americana". Realistic steel trucks, Tonka tough, built to last. Toy trucks to be handed down from one generation to the next. Solid steel construction has, over the years, given way to more plastic content. In fact many Tonka trucks manufactured today are all plastic. If auction sites such as eBay are any indication, vintage Tonka trucks are still very popular. The test of a great innovation is longevity. Early and many not so early Tonka trucks continue to be a solid favorite with kids from 3 to 93.
Early Tonka History, One Man's Perspective
An Interview with Gordon Batdorf
[Added Nov. 2014] Gordon Batdorf was hired in 1947 by Avery Crounse to fill a bookkeeper position at Mound Metalcraft. He resigned his position as Chief of Operations, Tonka Toys, in 1969. The interview offers a first person look into "Tonka culture" that began in Tonka’s formative years and some would argue, was part of Tonka’s DNA when Tonka ceased manufacturing in the U.S.A. in 1997. The interview with Batdorf is a must read.
Tonka Corporation Chronology
[Added Oct. 2014] Many folks don't know that Tonka, Kenner and Parker Brothers were once family. Tonka wanted to grow and hatched a plan to bring the owners of Easy Bake Oven® and Monopoly® into the family. Unfortunately, the plan to grow Tonka had the same effect as that pesky iceberg had on the Titanic. The plan to grow Tonka looked solid on paper, but Tonkas iceberg turned out to be two disastrous years of toy sales and the huge debt incurred for the money borrowed to finance the purchase of Kenner and Parker Brothers. The Tonka Corporation Chronology will walk you down the paths each company followed. I do not know who to credit for the chronology. The original appears to be an internal company document dated May 1989.
Now here is some pretty good news for all you Tonka truck fans. Tonka trucks was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, located within the confines of the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. on March 28, 2001. The National Toy Hall of Fame recognizes toys that have achieved longevity and national significance in the world of play and imagination. Tonka trucks proudly joins 35 other innovative and creative toys such as Silly Putty®, Slinky®, Mr. Potato Head®, Lincoln Logs®, Barbie®, the Hula Hoop® and the Frisbee®. Congratulations Hasbro and Tonka!