A History of Pre-War Automotive Tootsietoys
by Clint Seeley
edited by Robert Newson
Part 1 - Historical background, the 1911 Limousine and the Model T Fords
Clint Seeley's original text is in green, and my editorial additions are in blue.
Put your mouse over the thumbnail images to see the picture caption, and click on the thumbnail to enlarge.
A history has to begin somewhere, and one's first impulse is to try beginning at the beginning. But that would be much too pedestrian an approach for a piece on toy vehicles. Besides, a researcher is seldom so lucky, and more often must begin with now and try working his way back to the birth of his subject. But that would make it tough on the reader. A collector's interest in the subject is more likely to have germinated somewhere in the middle and gradually spread both forward and backward. This approach would almost surely drive the editor crazy, and is best avoided in the interests of keeping alive scarce editors and the precious surviving illustrated collector's journal in English. Perhaps I can succeed in dissatisfying everyone by starting with the present and bouncing backward in long skips and jumps over major corporate events, source material, documents, and people, and then gradually returning in normal chronological sequence, covering the actual model releases along the way. Well, not quite. It will be a little more orderly to take up groups of vehicles which go together in roughly proper sequence, though members of the group may have been introduced over a period of years. The "early" Macks are a case in point, having been introduced over a ten-year span, and remaining ln the catalogue in some form for nearly twenty years. Well, having laid down the ground rules, let's get on with it.
The present owner (remember Clint was writing in 1970) of the Tootsietoy trade-mark and manufacturer of current Tootsietoys is the Strombecker Corporation. It is presided over by three brothers, Myron (Mile), Allen and Richard (Dlck) Shure. Their grandfather had been an importer and manufacturer of novelties used in the carnival and circus trade, and bought out the Dowst Brothers Company in June 1926, after which the firm changed its name to the Dowst Manufacturing Co.Inc. When this company bought out the Strombecker Corporation in January 1964, during the crest of the slot-racing fad, it took the name of the lesser firm. It then expanded into the slot-raclng area, but continued making Tootsietoys, as well as other items long in their line, such as the metal miniatures used in Monopoly games.
The Dowst firm itself evolved in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The first entry I can find in the Lakeside Directory of Chicago is in 1877, when Charles O.Dowst was listed as a book-keeper. By 1879 he was listed under Dowst & Co., publishers, and two years later as editor and proprietor of the National Laundry Journal, when he was joined by his brother, Samuel. A decade later, the listing was changed to "Laundry Supplies". The World's Columbian Exposition took place in Chicago during the summer of 1893, at which a new type-casting machine, the Line-O-Type, was introduced. It was natural that this should interest the publishing Dowsts, and one was soon installed at their plant. Before long, they recognised that this equipment could be adapted to cast more than a "Line-O-Type". Soon, laundry accessories, such as collar buttons and small promotional irons, were being turned out. This line was quickly expanded to include tiny animals, whistles, rings, ships, etc., used for prizes in boxes of candied pop-corn (Cracker-Jacks) and by confectioners in wedding and birthday cakes, etc. By 1899 the firm was listed as "Dowst Brothers Co., Confectioners' Supplies", and by 1904 as "Metal Novelties".
Two years later, Theodore S.Dowst (the son of Samuel Dowst) marked the entry of the next generation as a book-keeper. He became a most inventive contributor, patenting the later cars and trucks in the 1920s and culminating in his patent of the Grahams in 1934. He stayed with the firm until his retirement as president in June 1945. He lived in retirement in San Diego, California, until his death only a few years ago (in the 1960s).
The 1911 Limousine
The earliest catalogue to come to hand has been that of 1909. There are three small miniature cars shown in it, issued as miniature favours, charms, pins, buttons and cuff links. The earliest was issued about 1901, and resembles a curved-dash Olds. True three-dimensional miniature models of a train, boats and a horse-drawn fire engine were made in the first decade of the century, but a true model car did not appear until 1911, when a tiny closed limousine was introduced. This remained in the catalogue through 1928. The limousine was also cast in a version with integrally cast wheels, also catalogued until 1928. Both versions were soon copied in various materials and methods, including a set with the names of real automobiles (Ford, Saxon, Paige, Dodge, Maxwell, etc.) cast on the roof and used for tokens on game boards. Dowst had also been producing small castings for this purpose, and made the metal shoe, iron, ship and others for Parker Brothers' games such as Monopoly. (This additional information is from Clint Seeley's 1984 article (ref.1)).
Our photos show the 1911 Limousine (left), together with a rather more crudely cast copy (right), presumably also American. This copy appears to be identical to one shown by Clint Seeley in his 1981 article (ref.2), but this one is die-cast whereas he describes it as slush cast. I suspect this may be a slip.
The Model T Fords
The next car to appear was the 1915 Model T Ford open tourer, followed a year later by the pick-up truck. The name "Ford" was not yet used, the vehicles being identified as "a perfect reproduction of the well-known Flivver". In 1921, the two Fords and the limousine were still the only cars in the catalogue. Early versions of the Fords had open-spoked wheels. There was a variation of the tourer with headlights added and other differences, described by Clint in 1981 (ref.2) and shown on the right here in the black and white photo. He thought it was a copy rather than an original Tootsietoy, but from the photograph I would tend to think it is a Tootsie. I have never heard of any other examples, so perhaps this one had been cleverly modified by a collector?
The Ford truck lasted longer in the catalogue than the tourer, so that late examples of the truck had TOOTSIE TOY added underneath. The dashboard/windscreen and steering column/steering wheel were usually two separate castings riveted together, but the orange truck pictured above has this component cast as a single piece which was plated rather than painted.
Clint gave 1914 as the date of introduction of the Ford tourer. However, a study of the styling of the real car shows that the toy was modelled on the 1915-16 vehicle. The web pages of the Model T Ford Club of America illustrate and describe each year's styling modifications. Up to 1914, the bonnet line of the Model T met the dashboard at right angles, but from 1915 onwards there was a cowl giving a curved join at this point. The Dowst model clearly has this curve. (Thanks to Dave Weber for pointing this out). Clint had fixed on the date of 1914 after correspondence with the factory, but as so often it seems that memories had faded and I think the styling evidence must be conclusive.
Styling changes also allow us to settle another old debate among collectors. This photograph shows the Model T Ford made by S.R. (Rivollet Successeurs, previously Simon & Rivollet), of Paris (it is marked FRANCE S.R. underneath). For many years there was some argument as to whether the Tootsietoy or the S.R. came first, and whether one copied the other. They are certainly not identical, and the S.R. is a rather better model, more finely cast and in better proportion. Also the S.R. has the windscreen frame modelled as part of the main casting with the separate steering wheel and column soldered in position, whereas the Tootsietoy has a separate dashboard/windscreen/steering wheel component which slots in place. Comparing the S.R. model with the Model T Ford Club of America web pages, I believe that the S.R. model is based on a post-1917 car with a higher bonnet line whereas the Dowst model is a 1915-16 car with the cowl but a lower bonnet line. So I think we must give Dowst the credit for making the first lead model of the Model T.
Tootsietoy Trade Mark
These toys had no trade name until 1922. The name Tootsietoy was registered as a trade mark on 11 March 1924, having been applied for on 7 February 1922. The application stated that the name had been used continuously since 20 April 1921, but did not mention use of the name on any of their products except doll furniture. Toots or Tootsie was the pet name of Catherine, the illegitimate daughter of Theodore (Ted) Dowst. Her mother was a secretary at the Dowst factory. They only married many years later after Ted's disapproving father had died (information from the Dowst family). Some time before 1925 the Tootsietoy name began to appear in catalogues and on boxes of automotive toys, but did not appear on the undersides of castings themselves until 1926 or 1927, and some unmarked castings were still being made after 1930.
Sources of information
We'll finish up this instalment with a few remarks about sources of information and then settle down to the procession of models and patent applications beginning next month. It is unfortunate that someone didn't try to make up this history a decade ago, as the passing of Theodore Dowst meant the loss of a most valuable eye-witness. A near next best was Mr.George Strobel, who joined the firm in September 1911, and retired as general manager in January 1965. His kind assistance in drawing from his rich and detailed memory has been a great help, both in conversation and in patiently answering written queries, before he passed away in March 1968. Mr Rollo Ballenger was with the firm from 1924 until 1964, and ran the New York offices (where I met him just before the Second World War, on a boyhood visit to the Blg City). He has helped with a number of details, especially on custom issues made for department stores and on bits of history relating to the change of attitude toward tiny toy replicas by such real-slze makers as Mack and Ford. He is presently living in retirement in New Jersey. Mr.George Hornbrook, quoted in an article in Mlnlature Auto magazine in January 1967, joined the firm as office manager in 1929. He had been a school teacher previously, and had taught the father of the present Shure brothers before being brought to the firm to "keep an eye on the office" for the Shures, who had left the management to Theodore Dowst after buying the firm out. Mr.Hornbrook is now living in Chicago in retirement, and recalls many of the people and events with great clarity, though has little interest in or memory of the models themselves. The piece in Miniature Auto says that it was George Hornbrook who coined the name 'Doodlebug' (see part 6), and when challenged about the simplification and lack of realism in the later pre-war models said 'We make toys for doodling, not display' (ref.16).
The youngest of the Shure brothers presently at the plant, Dick, has been very helpful in loaning me the company's file of catalogues, dating from 1921, and in supplying myriad details. Mr.J.N.Shure, father of the present management, is retired in Florida. Many employees still at the plant have been there for up to 40 years, and have helped with bits and pieces of data, and many are second or third generation employees of the firm. Mr.Louis Hertz is an author presently completing a book on the subject of old toy cars (ref.5), and has paralleled many of my efforts. He has willingly swapped much data with me, and steered me toward other sources. The U.S. Patent Office has provided pertinent documents from their files. Much of the information in the subsequent instalments of this history would have been unobtainable were it not for help from these people, but I'll take the blame for any goofs.
The Dowst v.Pressman legal action
Mention of Louis Hertz's book (ref.5) leads me to another digression, which nonetheless does relate to the Model T Ford Touring Car, in fact I can't think why Clint Seeley didn't cover this in the original article. In a footnote on page 231 of his book, Louis Hertz refers to the Dowst v.Pressman legal action of 1927, as if the reader should know exactly what he is talking about. This sort of unexplained aside, together with his rather indigestible writing style, make the book very heavy going and not one I would recommend seeking out now after more than forty years. However, Clint Seeley refers to the same case in his 1981 article (ref.2) with a little more clarity.
It seems that Dowst brought an action for patent infringement involving two slush cast copies of Tootsietoys, which Hertz identifies as Pressman no.116 (a copy of the Model T Ford Tourer) and Pressman no.114 (a copy of the Tootsie no.23 Racer introduced in 1926 and described in part 3 of this article). The slush cast Ford had the addition of single figures cast in the front and rear seats, and the trial judge held that this was sufficient to make it an original design that could not be confused with the Tootsietoy. Pressman were also successful in arguing that their racing car was not a copy of the Tootsietoy no.23 but that both were derived from an earlier cast metal miniature, presumably the slush cast Kansas Toy (see photo). Actually the Pressman racer is much more like the Kansas Toy than the Tootsie. The Pressman toys are those that today's collectors will find listed in O'Brien's book (ref.6) as the products of the Mid-West Metal Novelty Manufacturing Company. A contemporary mention of this firm in a trade magazine is reproduced in O'Brien's, but the toy illustrated clearly has plain disc wheels with black painted "tyres" in the style of CAW or Kansas Toys. The toys with Pressman style wheels (unpainted and with a suggestion of a rim between wheel and tyre) may in fact have nothing to do with the Mid-West firm. Pressman copied several other early Tootsies as well, some of which are photographed in part 2 of this article. Pressman was probably the distributor rather than manufacturer of the toys, and the firm is still in existence (see http://www.pressmantoy.com/). Louis Hertz also mentions that the Pressman toy cars were included in their catalogue for 1927 (page 241 in ref.5). If any reader has this catalogue, or an extract from it showing the cars, I would be delighted to see it, please e-mail me.
(1) "From Line-O-Type to the Funnies - The Birth of Tootsietoys" in Automobile Year Book of Models no.3, Editions 24
heures, Lausanne, 1984.
(2) "To Tell the True T.T." in Modellers' World magazine, Vol.10 no.4 and Vol.11 no.1, July and October 1981.
(3) "Early Tootsietoy Aircraft" in Modellers' World magazine, Vol.3 no.2, Jan.1974.
(4) The Book of Penny Toys by David Pressland, New Cavendish Books, 1991.
(5) The Complete Book of Building and Collecting Model Automobiles by Louis H.Hertz, Crown Publishers Inc., New
(6) Collecting Toy Cars & Trucks by Richard O'Brien, Krause Publications, 2nd edition 1997. This is the best
reference book for American slush cast automotive toys. I believe there are now third and fourth editions as well.
(16) "The Tootsietoy Era" by Arthur E.Anderson, Miniature Auto December 1966 and January 1967.