Tonka & Streater History | Tonka Chronology
[New May 2000] WWII had come to an end and the business of converting from supporting the war effort to something more peace time related was underway. New companies were popping up across the country and three visionary, entrepreneurs seized on an opportunity. Mound Metalcraft Incorporated was formed on September 18, 1946 by Lynn Baker, Alvin Tesch and Avery Crounse. The new company had recently purchased what had been a three story school building built in 1908 near beautiful Lake Minnetonka in Mound, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. The business model for their new company was to manufacture closet accessories like tie racks and lawn and garden implements like rakes, hoes, shovels and the like. Another business opportunity knocked on Mound Metalcraft's door in 1947. (Does opportunity really only knock once?) Approached by Streater Industries, Inc., another local manufacturer, Mound Metalcraft, Incorporated was offered the opportunity to manufacture steel toys, as envisioned by Edward C. Streater, son of L.E. Streater. Tooling for two pressed steel toys was soon purchased from Streater Industries that would become Tonka's model #100 Steam Shovel and #150 Crane and Clam. To learn more about Streater Industries and their steel steam shovel CLICK HERE. Tonka Toys was on the map.
Following the introduction of the Steam Shovel and Crane and Clam were a myriad of different models. Oh, the first two toys produced went through various color changes over the next few years, but then different models of pressed steel toys began to be manufactured. If Tonka wanted to compete with the likes of Buddy L, Marx, Nylint, Structo, Wyandotte and others, they had to diversify their model offering. 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 small plastic trucks 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!