When Lesney Products began manufacturing die-cast metal toys in n1948, it started with the Aveling Bedford diesel road roller. By 1953, seventeen other toys joined the Lesney line. The variety of toys in this group reflect the uncertain direction of the branch of the company. Mechanical animals, vehicles with wheels, houses-drawn items, and even a fishing novelty gadget were all tried before the success of wheeled vehicles eclipsed efforts in other directions.
Between 1950 and 1952, the British government restricted the use of zinc for non- essential products during the Korean War and therefore no die-cast toys could be made. Only the tin “Jumbo the Elephant” was made by Lesney during this period.
During 1953, Jack Odell began designing smaller-scale toys. The first were smaller versions of the original Lesney toys. These small toys were enormously successful and were continued to become the 1-75 series, a concept unchanged to this day! White the growing success of the small series, the larger toys were phased out by 1954.
Each of the early Lesney toys was packaged in a cardboard box which was printed with a picture of the toys, its name, and, in some cases, Moko. From a collector’s standpoint, the toy is more interesting with its original box and some have made a science of collecting boxes!
In 1953, Mosses Kohnstarn’s successor, Richard Kohnstam, was in charge of Moko. Lesney Products and Richard Kohnstam entered into an agreement whereby Moko would package and distributed the toys. Eventualy, Moko became the worldwide distributor. The year 1953 was also the beginning of the 1-75 series and “Matchbox” received its name.
In 1954, Lesney produced eighteen toys which were distributed my Moko. The trademark “Matchbox” had been registered in 1953 and belonged fifty percent to Moko which continued to provide services and financial backing for the toys. Rodney Smith had by now moved to Australia and left Lesney, leaving Leslie Smith and Jack Odell to manage the company.
During 1958, Leslie Smith felt there was pontential for the toys in Asia, particularly Japan. But Richard Kohnstam disagreed. In order to open up the market, Lesney realized it had to go off on its own marketing course. It had to buy out Moko’s fifty percent interest in Lesney Products. In 1959, this agreement was concluded and the company’s first catalog of toys was produced. Richard Kohnstam later founded his own firm-Riko. In 1959, a second catalog was produced including the new Models of Yesteryear catalog.
In 1954, distribution of Lesney toys to the United States was conducted by a salesman from New York named Fred Bronner. He became the sole U.S. importer during the late 1950s.
In 1964, Lesney Products (USA) was formed as a division of the English parent company. Lesney acquiered all of Fred Bronner’s stock and Bronner became the first president of Lesney Product (USA).
It was in 1969 that the Fred Bronner Corporation became the Lesney Products Corporation in the United State. If was also in the year that Lesney Product faced their biggest competion; in the late 1960s Mattel introduced Hot Wheels cars. Unlike their new competitors, Matchbox cars didn’t move fast and it was a do-or-die situation for the miniatures giant. This is