Toys Built to Last

In a previous post I introduced you to John and his collection of (mostly) Model A Fords. In the garages and buildings he stores his vehicles can be seen numerous other cool objects he collects such as road signs, garage signs and license plates. He also has a very fun group of toy vehicles – most of them trucks. I had the pleasure of setting up an exhibit of some of my favorites at the museum.

Anyone who ever played with pressed steel toys knows the charm and indestructibility of such objects. One also learns the names of their favorites as they become imprinted on the brain at an early age… There are just a few brands represented in this group; Wyandotte or All Metal Toys, Buddy L and Tonka will be the most recognizable depending on your age and love of toy trucks.

Pressed steel became a popular material for toy trucks starting during the 1930s industrial boom. Steel scrap was often used and pressed incredibly thin by huge machines. The sheets could then be cut and pressed into molds to make all sorts of shapes and objects that were strong and could be painted in bright colors. These pressed steel toys were more durable than wood and seemed more like the trucks they were made to represent. The idea caught on like wildfire among toy enthusiasts and new companies formed to take advantage of the markets created.

Steel was to be used only for the war effort during WWII and production naturally dropped off. After the war, however, these toys were in high demand and became more detailed and realistic. With the introduction of plastic into the construction there was no end to the details and features included in the vehicles. Because of the basic steel construction, however, the durability remained. Many of the cars in John’s collection are still strong enough to withstand some serious play!


Wyandotte – All Metal Products Co

These trucks are my personal favorite because of their design. The lines and windows and curves appeal to my love of 1930s-1940s cars. They seem to have more character than the later vehicles.

All Metal Products Company was an American toy company founded in 1920 and based in Wyandotte, Michigan for most of its history. It produced inexpensive pressed metal toys under the Wyandotte brand name, and was the largest manufacturer of toy guns in the US for several decades in the 20th century. The company’s slogan was “Wyandotte Toys are Good and Safe.” To keep costs down, the company used scrap and surplus raw materials whenever possible, often manufacturing their toys from scrap metal obtained from local auto factories.



Buddy L Toys

Buddy L toys were first manufactured by the Moline Pressed Steel Company, started by Fred A. Lundahl in 1910. The company originally made fenders and other stamped body parts for the automobile industry. The company primarily supplied parts for the McCormack-Deering line of farm implements and International Harvester Company trucks. Moline Pressed Steel did not begin manufacturing toys until 1921. Mr. Lundhal wanted to make something new, different, and durable for his son.

Fred Lundahl started by making a toy dump truck out of steel scraps for his son Buddy. Soon after, he began selling Buddy L “toys for boys” made of pressed steel. Buddy L made toy cars, dump trucks, delivery vans, fire engines, construction equipment and trains. Many were large enough for a child to straddle, propelling himself with his feet. A pioneer in the steel toy field, Lundahl persuaded Marshall Field’s and F.A.O. Schwarz to carry his line. He did very well until the Depression, then sold the company.



Keystone Manufacturing Company

The founders of the company were Chester Rimmer and Arthur Jackson. Originally Keystone specialized in movie machines and producing comedy films for young children from 1920-1924. (Remember the Keystone Cops?) By 1924 they changed course and started to produce the Keystone brand of pressed steel toys.

Keystone started out big – they made larger-sized toys, and they produced lots of them. They were given permission by the Packard Motor Company to create reproductions of their well known full sized truck models. In addition, they made toy airplanes, trains and construction oriented toys.

Keystone also made toys for J.C. Penny – under the name “Ride-Em”, these toys entered the market in 1932. Each toy made of a Packard truck had the famous Packard logo placed at the front of the truck, along with the Keystone logo – usually on the side of the toy. In 1937 the Packard line of toys was phased out along with the Packard logo. After WWII they began producing wooden toys including train sets, by the 1960s they had sold out to various companies and Keystone ceased to exist.



Structo Manufacturing was founded in Freeport, Illinois in 1908. It was originally known as the Thompson Manufacturing Company — and later changed to “Structo Manufacturing” in 1911 — a play on the “inde-structo-ble quality of their steel building sets. Their motto was “Structo toys makes men of boys!” – and some of their earliest toys were steel construction kits – forerunners of the “Erector” set. Included in some of the builder sets were roadsters and trucks, launching many years of pressed steel vehicle toys produced all the way into the 1950s and 60s.



Tonka Toys

Mound Metalcraft was created in Mound, Minnesota in 1946 by three partners; Lynn Everett Baker, Avery F. Crounse, and Alvin F. Tesch. Their original idea was to manufacture garden implements. The building’s former occupant, the Streater Company, had made and patented several toys. E.C. Streater was not interested in the toy business so they approached Mound Metalcraft to buy the company. The three men at Mound Metalcraft thought the toys might make a good side line to their other products.

After some modifications to the design and the addition of a new logo with the Dakota Sioux word “Tanka” or Tonka, which means “Great” or “Big”, the company began selling metal toys. This soon became the primary business. In 1955 Mound Metalcraft changed its name to Tonka Toys, Incorporated. The logo at this time was an oval – showing the Tonka Toys name in red above waves – presumably honoring nearby Lake Minnetonka.

The impact of the Tonka truck concept has been enduring and pervasive, especially the Mighty Dump Truck and associated “Mighty” line of construction equipment models introduced from 1964. The all-metal “Tonka Trucks” were sold throughout the world and earned a reputation as being indestructible, although the steel has been increasingly replaced by plastic from the late 1980s onwards.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s