Tyco Toys began in 1926 in Mantua, New Jersey, when two friends, James P. Thomas and John N. Tyler, formed the Mantua Toy Co. to manufacture wood and metal model sailboats. Their first product, a 3 foot cabin cruiser featuring a small electric motor, was offered in 1927. Since finding a quality small motor was difficult, John, an electrician, designed their own 6 volt motor.1
This Number 100 motor and the model boat were the inaugural products of the Triple-T Electrical Toys line. The Triple-T stood for Thomas, Tyler, and Tyler, with the additional Tyler being John's wife and James' sister, who was actively involved as well.
The company moved its focus to model trains when John, who was an immigrant from England where model railroading was a more developed hobby, designed the Midget Motor, a small motor for the OO scale locomotives widely in use. The Midget Senior, a slightly larger but more powerful motor, was also successfully offered in 1930. By 1933, they moved to a new shop in nearby Woodbury Heights where, in 1935, they advertised a complete machine shop for manufacturing all sizes of model railroad parts.
Previously, in 1932, John was introduced into the new rage in model railroading: the HO models, which were half the size of the standard O size. This new small-sized locomotive was lacking a small and powerful motor. John began working on this challenge, and Mantua Toy Co. introduced a permanent magnet DC motor for the HO scale locomotives in 1936.
Adding to their line of motors in 1937, Mantua Toy Co. introduced the Consolidation, their first freight train model, which was offered in either a ready-to-run format or as a kit. The following year they changed their name to Mantua Metal Products Co. and introduced more affordable models and kits for the HO scale, including locomotives, cars, couplers, and “Ready-Laid Track.”2
During World War II, Mantua's manufacturing capacities were used to make precision measuring and mapping equipment for the war. In 1947, after the war and after receiving the Army-Navy “E” award, Mantua converted their facilities back to manufacturing model railroad products with some major changes: they changed to a 12 volt DC motor, they began using zinc alloy die castings instead of brass, and the partnership between James and John was dissolved.
By 1953, John had led Mantua Metal Products in offering kits for 15 different locomotive designs as well as boxcars, tankers, reefers, flat cars, hoppers, gondolas, and cabooses. As a hobby industry, Mantua's customers were both adults and children. At this time, Milt Grey, Mantua's marketing director, convinced John to add ready-to-run HO train sets, which being on the smaller scale would especially appeal to children. Tyler Manufacturing, under John and Milt's leadership, began offering these sets in 1953, which opened a new market in the toy industry.3
In the 1950s and 1960s these train sets outsold the traditional Mantua railroad kits and led to John and Milt's general shift from the hobby market to the toy industry. By 1967 they had an expanded manufacturing facility, a new line of electric race car sets, and a new company - Tyco Industries formed from the combination of Mantua Metal Products Co. and Tyler Manufacturing. Norman S. Tyler, John's son, became president with John remaining as chairman of the board.
Tyco was acquired in 1970 by Consolidated Foods, a subsidiary of Sara Lee Corporation, which was seeking to diversify. However, under Consolidated, Tyco suffered from the lack of leadership which understood the toy industry. To reverse the slump in sales, in 1973, Consolidated hired Richard Grey, son of Milt, to be president of the Tyco division.
Richard, with Harry Pearce as chief financial officer, was able to return Tyco to a profitable status before it was sold, in 1981, to Savoy Industries, an investment company that restructured troubled companies. After five years, Tyco was offered as a public company in 1986.
During this time the facility in Woodbury Heights was sold to the Tyler family who re-established the Mantua model railroad lines in 1977 under the name of Mantua Industries. They continued in the railroad hobby industry until 2001.4 Tyco had previously moved their headquarters to Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.
Through this transition period, Richard and Harry remained with Tyco and pursued keeping the focus on the toy market. They added the US-1 Trucking line when the market for railroad sets began to wane, and they expanded into Super blocks, telephones, and remote-control vehicles.5 Super blocks, a copy of the Lego blocks, was challenged in court, but Tyco won the case as they did with Kenner concerning Tyco Super Dough, their copy of Play-doh.6
The television advertising that began in the 1960s was expanded in the 1980s by the children's television programs that were produced to sell specific toys. Tyco entered this new trend with Dino-Riders series, comic books, and fan club. By 1993 they were acquiring licensing agreements with Warner Bros., Walt Disney, and Children's Television Workshop to produce Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner, Sesame Street, and Little Mermaid toys.
As Hasbro and Mattel consolidated much of the toy industry in the 1980s and 1990s, Tyco also acquired seven smaller toy companies, which established them, in 1992, to be the third largest toy manufacturer. One of these companies was View Master/Ideal Group which they acquired in 1989. This added the View Master 3-D viewers, the Magna Doodle drawing toy, and the Ideal Nursery Dolls.7
Another one of these companies was the preschool toy manufacturer Illco that was acquired in 1992 to expand Tyco Preschool products. That same year Tyco acquired Universal Matchbox Group, which added new miniature diecast car and train products just as they were discontinuing their own train set products in 1993.8
After 1991, Tyco expanded internationally, utilizing Matchbox's international distribution system.9 They opened wholly-owned subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Benelux, Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Mexico, Canada, and Australia.10 These subsidiaries offered the popular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, X-Men, and Gund plush toys.
Even though Richard and Harry kept Tyco management minimal and consolidated and restructured operations as they were acquired, their rapid international expansion left them vulnerable. In 1997, Tyco was acquired by Mattel, the number one toy manufacturer worldwide. Later, in 2005, their Mt. Laurel headquarters was closed, and the Tyco division was moved to Mattel's El Segundo, California headquarters.11
- 1. “Mantua Metal Products History.” RailStop.com. < http://www.railstop.com/History/Mantua/MantuaHistory.asp > 6 June 2011.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. “Tyco Toys, Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Tyco Toys, Inc.” Reference for Business, Company History Index. < http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/74/Tyco-Toys-Inc.html > 4 Feb. 2011.
- 4. Op. cit., “Mantua Metal Products History.”
- 5. “Tyco, Brown Box Era HO-scale Trains.” Tony Cook's HO Scale Trains Resource. < http://ho-scaletrains.net/tycotrains/id1.html > 6 June 2011.
- 6. Op.cit., “Tyco Toys, Inc. - Company Profile.”
- 7. “History 1993-1996.” Tyco Matchbox History. < http://www.shabbir.com/matchbox/tyco.html > 27 Jan. 2011.
- 8. Op.cit., “Tyco, Brown Box Era.”
- 9. Op.cit., “Tyco Toys, Inc. - Company Profile.”
- 10. Op.cit., “History 1993-1996.”
- 11. “Timeline of Toy Companies.” Toyarts. < http://www.toyarts.com/history/index.html > 12 June 2011.