History of Tonka Toys

June 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Antique Toy History

Tonka Toys began under the name Mound Metalcraft Incorporated in an old school house in Mound, Minnesota. It was founded in 1946 by partners Lynn Everett Baker, Avery F. Crounse and Alvin F. Tesch. The first product offerings were two models of tie-racks; the original product line was to focus on the manufacture of lawn and garden tools such as rakes, shovels, hoes, etc.

A change of product focus occurred a year later in 1947. Mound Metalcraft was approached by another local manufacturer, Streater Industries, Inc., to manufacturer steel toys visualized by Edward Streater. The companies knew of each other because Streater had been former occupants of the building where Mound Metalcraft had subsequently moved into. Streater Industries had tried unsuccessfully to market two metal toys. Alvin Tesch modified their design. A new logo was created by Erling Eklof using the Dakota-Sioux “Tonka” which means big or great. The collaboration resulted in Tonka’s first models produced which were the model #100 Steam Shovel and model #150 Crane and Clam. Although the Tonka Toys name appeared on these original offerings, Mound Metalcraft did not legally change its name to Tonka Toys until November 1955. The focus on garden implements was reconsidered. Tonka Toys became a manufacturer of metal toys.

With the success of the Steam Shovel as well as the Crane and Clam, Tonka Toys became innovative in its model designs and its color combinations. The first two models were produced using an array of various color schemes. Different models are pressed steel toys were also introduced at this time. For example, dump truck, wreckers, semis and box vans were added to the product line. Tonka expanded their product line in order to compete with Nylint, Structo, Wyandotte and others. The solid steel construction of Tonka Toys made it a popular toy that was tough enough to be passed down from one generation to another. They were considered indestructible. In 1955 Tonka Toys moved into a new manufacturing facility due to high demand of the Tonka trucks. Shortly thereafter a 50,000 square foot addition was added to the new facility. Tonka Toys was in a growth pattern. In 1955 Tonka Toys changed its logo to an oval with the name Tonka Toys in red above waves. It is thought that this is to honor the nearby Lake Minnetonka.

Tonka moved into another phase when it was purchased in 1991 by Hasbro of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The original solid steel construction of Tonka Toys has given way to the use of more plastic in the toys. This was due in part to a move to manufacturing to China in 1998.

Tonka trucks were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2001. This momentous induction is a recognition that Tonka trucks have achieved longevity and have played a role nationally in the world of imagination and play. It is a toy that is considered a classic. Tonka trucks remain a favorite toy of kids of all ages.