In 1946, a small Minnesota company sought to manufacture gardening tools under the name Mound Metalcraft. This business model quickly evolved however, when their side project of crafting metal toys became a much more viable market. Business and life (and toys) can be unpredictable, and sometimes our crazy side projects take on a life of their own. By 1955, Mound Metalcraft became Tonka Toys Incorporated and that small side project became a childhood icon.
Tonka Company History
The word “Tonka” was an interesting choice, a Dakota-Sioux word for “great” and/or “big.” These days, Tonka is a word associated with great big trucks for kids. This is of course due to the famous line of metal construction vehicle toys that Tonka released in the mid-sixties. By the way, for more on these classics, read our earlier post on vintage tonka trucks.
The company spent many years with their metal trucks (dubbed the “Mighty” line), using the profits to acquire a barbecue manufacturer and expand their variety of products to attract other demographics.
This plan took off in the 1980s, when Tonka released Pound Puppies and Gobots. Though these were big sellers, the big yellow trucks never waned in popularity.
1991 came with a big change, as Tonka was bought out by Hasbro. Thankfully, the Tonka brand name never left, nor did their trademark trucks.
The original Mighty Tonka truck was, of course, the Mighty Dump Truck in1964. Back in the sixties, the line of yellow construction monsters also featured real rubber tires. At a whopping eleven pounds and big enough to haul a household cat (yes, I tried it), the truck is now a symbol of Tonka strength and durability.
Some of the marketing lines written for the early incarnations of the Mighty line included “Guaranteed for Life” and “Tonka Tough.” Rightly so, as the Mighty Dump is a common family heirloom that is safe in the hands of any generation.
Materials and designs
When I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to have some older metal Tonka trucks. They were suddenly scarce, because the company was slowly transitioning their trademark toys from metal to plastic in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Kids are still enthralled with the classic designs in the Mighty line, despite the loss of durability and strength embodied by the earlier steel-made versions. Back-hoes, scrapers, and mobile cranes have been slowly integrated over the years, always in the signature yellow color. Different sizes have come into play, ranging from the pocket-size “Tiny” line and moving up to the Mighty size.
Mighty size Tonka trucks go for about $29.99 on Amazon, whereas the Tonka Junior products can be as cheap as $4 in the right places. The classic metal trucks are great items for collectors, and the original 1964 Mighty Dump Truck can be found for sale at $169.00 (restored). Not bad for a toy icon.