The Mound Metalcraft Connection | 1953 Interview With Lynn Baker

$ $ $ by the (Toy) Truckload

After Seven Years, Mound Firm Makes 3 Million

From the Minneapolis Tribune - November 22, 1953

By Staff Writer John A. Wickland

Seven years ago Lynn Baker, a former Minneapolis automobile distributor, had an idea that youngsters like realism in their toys. They are proving him right this year to the tune of nearly three million dollars. His plant, Mound Metalcraft, Inc., is running day and night to keep up with orders for the trucks, vans, semi-trailers and road graders marketed under the name "Tonka Toys." Realism in toys wasn't a new idea when it came to Baker but it was new in the toy truck industry. "A youngster really has to use his imagination with the toys then on the market," he said. "We decided to make scale model miniatures that looked just like the trucks a little boy might see passing his home every day."

Baker got into the toy business almost by accident. He was lunching one day with Ed Streater of Streater Industries and the latter mentioned his Mound plant was for sale. The plant, in the old Mound high school building, had made wooden shell boxes during the war. When the demand for these ended, it switched to wooden toys. Baker, with two associates who since have left the business, found himself owner of the plant a short time later. Baker never made a single wooden toy. After talking to experienced toy-men he decided there was no future for wooden items. Then he recalled the toys his own youngsters had had. "They didn't resemble real trucks and they could be demolished by any active boy in no time," he said. Baker likes to balance his 192 pounds on one of his metal trucks and knock it off his desk on to the hard floor to show it can take abuse.

Mound Metalcraft's first toy was a steam shovel. The next year the company added a crane and "clam." In 1949 it came out with a line of scale model trucks. Baker has increased the size of the plant three times with additions to the old high school building. With about 215 employees, the company operates three shifts six days a week. One department works a half shift Sundays to keep up with the production line.

A year ago Mound Metalcraft bought a creamery building at nearby Loretto and established a subassembly plant with 25 employees. Baker thought that might reduce the amount of work he was farming out to five Minneapolis firms which were doing plating, printing and stamping. It didn't. The five are still doing more work than ever for Mound Metalcraft. Every year since the company was organized, it's entire production has been sold by July 1. This year, with nearly 300% expansion in production facilities over 1946, the years output was sold by June 1. Last year Mound Metalcraft sold about $1 million worth of toys. This year's orders will come close to $3 million. Baker expects to have turned down another million dollars worth of business by the end of the year.

So he is looking for more space. Under consideration is a plant in Illinois or Indiana near steel sources. He also is thinking about a Canadian operation. Mound Metalcraft went into the Canadian toy market this year with such success that the distributor wants more merchandise in 1954 than the company can possibly supply.

The model toys are designed by Mound Metalcraft's own designers using an 18 to 1 scale. "We are the first manufacturer in the toy business to produce in metal, scale model trucks and trailers in our price class," says Baker. "We had to do something unusual or we wouldn't have lasted." Another unusual idea of Baker's was a contract with Allied Van Lines to produce models of the firm's big trucks. A similar contract followed with Green Giant Company, the Le Sueur, Minnesota, canning company. Mound Metalcraft also makes more than 30 special items for such companies as Coast to Coast, Our Own Hardware and Marshall Field.

Driving home from the toy show in Chicago a year ago, Baker was thinking about new toys for his line. He passed a big diesel road grader. When he got home he put the designers to work on it and the result was the first scale model of such a grader. Baker thought it might be popular enough to still about 75,000 models. Last May the company had to stop taking orders for the toy grader. It already has sold 300,000.

Production at the Mound plant, running at the rate of 7200 toys a day, will begin slowing down soon for the change over to 1954 models. The company now has 14 items in its line. That will be increased to 17 next year but Baker will not disclose what the new ones are. In the highly competitive toy industry, new items are closely guarded secrets until they are ready for the market. Retooling for the new models will cost about $100,000, Baker said. Tools for one new toy alone will come to $12,600. Mound Metalcraft's Tonka Toys no longer amuse only American children. They are sold in Ireland, Britain, France, Mexico, Cuba, the Philippines and elsewhere throughout the world.

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