Dale’s Daily Data: Tonka Toys
It was back in 1957 when a group of school teachers in Minnesota came up with a plan to make some money during their summer off from school by making gardening tools for sale. All of them were expert gardeners and each of them knew of some special function for which a tool should be designed to make a certain gardening job easier: small hand shovels made to fit a woman’s hand, weeders that were lighter and easier to use, bulb planters designed to dig the right size hole for specific flowers.
Great idea and they built some really great tools – but they didn’t have the slightest idea how to sell them. And when they found out what the competition was like, not to mention dealing with wholesalers, jobbers, suppliers, retail buyers, returns – well, it was just too much trouble for the small profit they were making.
So, they quit making gardening tools, but now what to do with all the leftover parts and supplies they had? They sold tie racks for a short time, but they decided to design something they could use with their students.
And this idea really took off. It was this small group of frustrated Minnesota school teachers, trying to earn a few extra bucks by making and selling garden tools, who came up with one of the most popular toys ever invented. I had several when I was growing up…..and a lot of other boys did too….and probably some girls too. They invented what came to be known as Tonka Toys! Tonka – an Indian word meaning big or great. Mostly metal toys to begin with – a lot of that metal was replaced with plastic over the years.