|As L. E. Streater focused
their efforts on store fixtures, Wenkstern kept in contact with his friends
at Mound Metalcraft giving them advice based on his growing knowledge of
toy manufacturing. He was no longer satisfied with the challenges Streater
Industries could offer him. In 1947 Mound Metalcraft needed to hire a few
(3) extra people (doubling their workforce) to produce the large number of
toys that were being ordered. In their first year they produced nearly 37,000
of the "great" E. C. Streater clam shell (crane) and steam shovel
Wenkstern now working for a company which was abandoning the field he loved
(toys) and seeing the events at Mound Metalcraft, grew restless, so he left
Steater and started a company called Moulded Products to make plastics
based toys and other plastic products.
Always in contact with his old friends ... mainly because they lived near
the same small town ... in 1952 Wenkstern was asked to give up his current
endeavor and come to Mound Metalcraft to manage their production and sit
on their board.
He brought with him his philosophy of toy making, with which in many ways
he had already helped Metalcraft from the very beginning. His concepts
of child development came no doubt from his teaching background. Even the
term Tonka Toys I believe came from Wenkstern many years before his full
time employment by the company and while he still worked for Streater, although
I can't prove it. It is also possible that it was Edward Streater who first
used it. (If you know, enlighten me.)
In any case the corporation known as "Tonka Toys" (a name used for the product
since Streater) was set up though the initiative of Mr. Wenkstern in the
mid 1950's (1955?). Mound Metalcraft "may" also have continued to exist as
a corporate entity.
New vehicles were being added to the line continuously. The company modified
the shape of many of it's toy trucks to reflect the new vehicular styles
rather than the flat front WWII vehicle shapes which had been used
for several years. This was a philosophy advocated by Wenkstern.
Whether or not Wenkstern originated this "cab changing" concept is unknown
to me. I believe he did, because it was part of his philosophy and also the
fact that it didn't start happening to any significant degree until after
his arrival as production manager, only adds credence to that belief. I heard
his philosophy about Toy making when I was 10 to 11 years old in Mound. This
transpired over a period of time, and was in the from of "snippets
of communication" not one long conversation, as Wenkstern was a very
busy man, but he was amused by a 10 year old as interested in the
process as in the product. Many people point to Wenksterns contributions
after he became CEO, but I feel his greatest contributions to making Tonka
what it was were made before he took that position. Not to slight his later
achievements however considering he took over a corparation with $400,000
in sales and 16 years later left one with 80 million in sales and global
distribution. In many ways Wenkstern had to wear a "different hat"
to be a CEO than he had as a production manager, and it was not an easy
Others tried to copy the Tonka model, a very few were able to compete and
make good, yet inexpensive toy vehicles, like Nylint for example, which
may not have copied Tonka but certainly shared their ideas and started
selling to the same market around the same time period. In any case Mound
became the undisputed "Truck Capitol of the World".
In 1961 what had once been Mound Metalcraft went public on the N.Y. Stock
Exchange as "Tonka Toys", with Russell L Wenkstern as it's CEO. Since that
time Tonka "Trucks" have been distributed world wide and have gained a level
of brand recognition so great that .. as I remind my friends from Minnesota
...far more people around the world know what a Tonka Truck is, than know
what "Minnesota" is.
Russell Wenkstern was one of the first people to be inducted into the new
National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.
While Wenkstern's position wasn't as a toy designer he did considerable
collaboration with the designers especially on new truck cab designs. He
was also heavily involved with the development of the "Mighty Dump" Tonka's
most successful product.
Tonka Truck production began at the dawn of the post World War II Baby Boom
and flourished without insurmountable problems for almost three decades.
Changes in the political, legal, demographic, and toy market realities of
the 1970's spelled the end of the Tonka Boom as we had known it. From now
on Tonka would need to evolve into something different than it had been.
Baby boomers now wanted bigger "toy" vehicles, which they could actually
drive on the interstate highways like the REAL Pink Surrey Jeep.**
Today there is a growing collectors market for Vintage Tonka Trucks and other
Tonka vehicles, accessories photographs, literature, advertisements, and
anything else "Tonka". The primary interest is "currently" toward those Toys
built in Mound Minnesota from day one in the red brick school house on Lynwood
Boulevard, and those trucks built in the ever expanding plant on nearby Shoreline
Drive during the 1950's and early 1960's. See the aerial photograph of Mound.
Some of what I have written about I have gotten from the internet, like the
exact spelling of names of the founders. Otherwise most is based on recollections
of my home town and the people in it, Tonka Toys, and communications with
Russell Wenkstern and others, nearly 40 years ago. I was only about 7 when
Streater Industies left for Albert Lea, MN. So I don't know as
much about them.
If I am clearly wrong about some things, or if you would like to inform
me about what you know of these events please write and tell me, I am
interested in this story, and have learned very little about it, or
the people involved, since I was a kid.
||**There was a real pink surrey Tonka
Jeep used by Tonka for publicity. I vividly remember it looking exactly like
this one. This is claimed to be "it". Notice the Tonka on it's hood. This
is said to be a 1962 Willys DJ-3A Dispatcher Surrey Gala.
Where was Tonka located?
The picture above is the eastward view down Lynwood Boulevard in Mound Minnesota.
There is new construction on both sides, but on the left side of this
block where a new strip mall can barely be seen once stood the old Mound
school house. Today the space is occupied by a Thrifty-White Drug store and
other businesses. See the aerial photo below, but note that the orientation
is rotated by 90 degrees from the picture above. Next time I return to Mound
(2,000 miles) I'll get some better pictures.
The old school had served Mound since well back into the 1800's but was no
longer needed after the Mound High School, a few hundred feet away and across
the street, was expanded in 1938. This abandoned small multi story red brick
building after WWII housed the garden hand implements company known as "Mound
If you walk east on this street "Lynwood Blvd." which has changed very little
over the years, (other than curb, gutter and pavement) you will, within
a few blocks, come into the rear of the "new" plant built in sections
mainly in the 1950's and 60's. The oldest section is slightly left of the
middle of the picture. It is the low part with all the windows (see
above). It is shown with a blue cross in the aerial photo (below). You are
on the street to the north of the new plant and are coming from the
red cross which is the original school house plant. You need to use both
of these photos together to follow what I am writing.
I thought as long as I have been telling
visitors about Tonka I should have a few pictures. I intend to photograph
a collection or two when I return to Minnesota, but in the mean time I looked
on the web for pictures that were placed in the public domain, or at least
appeared to be.
Many of these came from auction sites. If I don't attribute the picture to
a specific contributor then I don't know the name of the person who originally
took the photo. Please see the copyright statement at the bottom of each
page. I will add interesting examples as I find them. These pictures are
of varied quality. Also see my Links Page to other Tonka and Toy sites.