Diecast toy cars had been around almost as long as Henry Ford’s original Model T, but Matchbox brought new levels of popularity to the small-scale vehicles.
Jack Odell built his first brass model (an Aveling Barford Road Roller) in 1953, and since it was small enough for his daughter to bring to school in a matchbox, the ‘Matchbox’ name stuck.
The next year, Odell’s company, Lesney Products (co-founded in 1947 by school friends Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith) debuted four Matchbox models – the Steamroller, the Muir Hill Site Dump Truck, the Cement Mixer and the Massey Harris Tractor. The UK company exported its vehicles to the rest of the world in 1954, and the line began to expand.
Matchbox’s models changed from year to year, but its basic line always contained 75 cars. New cars were introduced, old ones were retired, but the ‘Matchbox 75’ was one of the toy world’s constants. That didn’t stop Matchbox from introducing more models in different lines, however.
The ‘Models of Yesteryear’ range – first introduced in 1956 – gave kids a chance to play with old-time cars and other vehicles while future lines like the ‘King Size’ and ‘World Class’ models expanded the Matchbox garage even further.
Matchbox cars soon became the world standard in die-cast autos, giving kids an affordable car with real-life details.
The introduction – by American toy makers Mattel – of ‘Hot Wheels‘ in the late 1960s lured some kids to the new world of speed and bright colours, but Matchbox responded with its ‘Superfast’ line.
Later years brought playsets (including a full snap-together Matchbox city) and an exclusive deal with Harley-Davidson motorcycles but the thrill for young boys was always the same: this car may not be full-size, but it looks real and it’s mine.