History of Toy Robots

June 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Antique Toy History

The history of toy robots is very interesting. The Marshall Plan (named after Secretary of State George Marshall) was designed to help rebuild European and Japanese industries after WWII. The thought was to give assistance to Japan by building industries that would not be a threat to its American counterparts. It was suggestive that low profit, high labor, small item manufacturing industries would fit the requirements. U.S. companies had found that these products incurred high costs and lowered profit margins. They reasoned that by having the manufacturing done in countries with lower wages, they could import the product most cheaply and sell at a higher profit than if they had done the manufacturing in the U.S. American toy imports such as Marx, Rosco, Cragstan and Mego sold toys that had been made by Nomura, Madudaya, Daiya, Yoshiya, Yonezava and Horikawa.

The original toy offerings from Japan were clockwork or friction powered, stamped steel and similar to the popular German and American toys before WWII. The Japanese perfected many of their toy designs and added improved features such as unique actions, tin lithography and battery power.

The first toy robot is considered to be Robot Lilliput from Japan. It is a boxy, yellow clockwork. The exact year of its creation is unsure; the date ranges from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s. The next Japanese robot Atomic Robot Man and was made in the late 1940s. The box for Atomic Robot Man was certainly a reflection of current events when it was made. It depicted a robot marching through a city that had been annihilated with an atomic mushroom cloud overhead.

American toy companies also made toy robots. The Sears Christmas Book of 1954 had a crank operated robot called Robert the Robot. Other robots from American companies that were subsequently introduced during this period include The Robot Dog, Marvelous Mike, Z-Man, Big Max and Marx Electric robot.

The Japanese continued to battle the American toy makers and came up with new innovations. Batteries had been used in toys for lights or noise. The Japanese began to use battery operated motors to power robots. A famous movie in 1956 was Forbidden Planet that featured Robby the Robot. While no “Robby” toys were licensed, they were many similarities in robots named Planet Robot and Mechanized Robot.

Toy robots are difficult to give credit to the manufacturing toy maker or country from which it is made. That is because many manufactured items in Japan are subcontracted out, bought from an unknown supplier and even made from recycled materials.

One of the most productive makers of Japanese battery operated toys was the Horikawa company who used the trade logo SH. Horikawa sold hundreds of different robots from the 1950s through the 1980s. The confusion is that most do not know that Horikawa was a wholesaler and that the robots were actually made by the Metal House company of Tokyo.

Toys robots are not considered collector items. A toy robot that cost $3.95 forty years ago can now sell for up to $50,000 today at auction.