When the Great Depression hit the United States in the 1930s, large and expensive toys suddenly went out of fashion. Just the same, kids still wanted to have fun, and smaller, less costly toys became popular during those money-conscious times.
One of the most popular toys to rise up during this era was the die-cast toy car and the leader in the creation of these pocket-sized gems was a company known as Tootsie Toys.
Die-casting was introduced to the world at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 with a machine called the Line-O-Type. This machine made it possible to manufacture metal items by melting the metal into a liquid form and pouring it into a pre-set mould.
American manufacturer Charles Dowst witnessed this machine at work and began using this technology back in the United States. In 1906, he took notice of the popularity of ‘horseless carriages’ and began manufacturing small toy cars for children.
Dowst took his next stride forward in 1910. When Henry Ford’s Model T Ford became a popular automobile, Dowst decided to use it as the model for a series of small die-cast cars. Dowst produced a highly-detailed replica of the Model T Ford.
These toys combined high quality with a convenient size and an affordable price to become a big hit.
As a result, Dowst began producing the Model T Fords and other die-cast vehicles through his company, Dowst Manufacturing Co.
Tootsie Toys were responsible for several innovations in production techniques. They were, for instance, the first company to replace lead with mazac (a magnesium and zinc-based alloy) which was lighter and harder.
The company also experimented with other die-cast toys, including a line of dolls house furniture in 1922.
These items were named ‘Tootsie Toys’ in honour of one of Dowst’s granddaughters, and in 1924, Dowst Manufacturing Co. took the name of these toys as their company’s name.
The company continued to produce several die-cast toys, although they shifted their focus to other, less-expensive toys after World War II. One of their best-selling non-die-cast toys was the solution used to blow bubbles. Tootsie Toys was the first company to put this on the market, and it remains popular today.
As they moved into the 1950s, die-cast toys remained a speciality for Tootsie Toys, and they began making new kinds of vehicles like Jeeps and fire-fighting trucks. In 1961, Tootsie Toys merged with Strombecker, a specialist in plastic toys.
Although their names both appeared on the packages of their toys, Tootsie Toys continued to focus on die-cast toys while Strombecker focused on plastic toys.
The company made its last purely die-cast vehicles in 1969. Since then, the die-cast Tootsie Toys have also included plastic parts.
Tootsie Toys continues to be an important company today. Their new cars are models of choice for toy car enthusiasts, and their classic die-cast cars remain a hot item among toy collectors.