MatchBox History

English Version

Page 1

Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith were school friends who reunited by chance in 1940 when both served in the English Royal Navy. Each shared an ambition of one day having their own engineering factory and discussed joining the other when World War II was over. They eventually formed a partnership and began “Lesney Product” on June 19, 1947. This was a composite of their first names, and the word “Products” seemed appropriate because they had not decided what they world make. Leslie Smith was also employed by the J. Raymond Wilson Company, which confirmed overseas orders; a position he held for several years. He worked in the evening keeping Lesney’s financial records until the company grew sufficiently to support him full-time. Rodney Smith found employment with the engineering firm of Diecast and Machine Tools in London.

With about six hundred British pound in combined revenue, the pair bought the old tavern, Rifleman, at Edmonton, London, and some government surplus diecasting machinery. They were determined to make pressure die-casting products for industrial use.

Another employee at Diecast and Machine Tools was John W. Odell, always referred to as Jack. He contributed his particular casting skill and joined into the Lesney venture. As subcontractors for industry, the three began producing small die cast components. They were among many such firms in London contributing to the rebuilding of the city.

The English custom of taking stock inventory for taxation purposes on the first of January led to reduced orders for component suppliers during the last two months of the year. Therefore, the few Lesney employees were not kept busy producing die-castings during those months and the founders considered alternate products. Some of the other small die-cast firms had made a few toys and the Lesney team experimented with this as well. In 1948, the first of these toys was produced and sold locally in London in small shops. The first toy was a large-scale Road Roller. By 1952, Lesney was supplying a few toys to some of the Woolworth stores in London for the Christmas season.

The London toy distributors considered these little toys “Christmas cracker trash” and were not enthusiastic about handling them. Children, however, loved them, so the shopkeepers needed more. By Christmas 1953, Lesney recognized that there was market for their toys but the founders were not interested in developing a sales force, storage facilities, and marketing techniques to distribute toys for a few months a year. They turned instead to agents who specialized in marketing to handle their toys. In the east end of London there were established agents long before the war. The one they contacted was Moko.

Mosses Kohnstarn was a German agent from Nuremberg who came to England in about 1900 to develop the toy industry. He specialized in packaging storing, distributing, and financial backing for many small toy manufacturers. For this he received a percentage of the selling price. Mosses Kohnstarn’s company name was Moko and the toys they distributed carried his company name, no matter what firm made them. Some Moko-distributed products that had no association with Lesney included a merry-go-round, a mechanical mouse, plastic penguin, a gantry crane, and a scooter, amongst others.