Note: This feature is in the March TT&C 2018 issue.
Tonka toy truck collectors enjoy arguing over whether or not Tonka ever had a research and development division during its formative years from roughly 1950 through 1955. Art Morby believes the company did, and he has one of the division’s trucks to prove it.
Lynn Baker, Avery Crounse and Alvin Tesch founded Mound Metalcraft in 1946 in Mound, Minn. Intending to manufacture garden implements, Mound Metalcraft purchased both the building and tooling from the E.C. Streater Company, believing the production of toy trucks might make a good sideline. Soon, Mound Metalcraft was manufacturing trucks full time. In November 1955, Mound Metalcraft changed its name to Tonka Toys Inc., taking the name from a Dakota Sioux word that meant “great” or “big.” And Tonka trucks lived up to their name. At its peak, Tonka made 325,000 toys a week and employed more than 2,000 workers.
“Tonka only had three ‘scales,’” Art Morby said. “They were regular size, mini size and mighty size. While I like all of them, regular size seemed to best represent the Tonka name.”
Art, who lives in rural Galena, Ill., purchased his first Tonka in 2005 in Dyersville, Iowa. “My wife, Dawn, and I have visited the summer and fall toy shows for as long as I can remember—probably 30 years or more,” Art said. “I purchased my first Tonka, a 1961 white wrecker, at one of these shows. The wrecker was a regular Tonka production toy for 1961. The wrecker was, as I later learned, a square body or generic style because of the hood design. It also had a reinforced front frame and rear trailer hitch, which were all part of the stamped design frame. It’s actually possible to trace the Tonka wrecker’s design progress by careful observation. Starting around 1949, the wrecker/tow truck would take on many design changes, from the cabover to the round nose to the generic hood and then to the generic-style side. All were quite different.”
It is this “different” design and obvious evolution of Tonka trucks that has led Art to believe the company had an active research and development department, even in its earliest years.