Museum honors rich Minnesota history of Tonka Toys
Ron Pauly designed toys for Tonka Toys for more than 28 years. He is also one of the two largest contributors of toys to the museum. Photo by Tom Hauer.
For many of us who grew up in the 1950s through the 1990s, we enjoyed playing with Tonka Toys. Tonka Toys, goes back to 1946 in Mound, Minn., and brings back a lot of fond memories when the yellow toy trucks, known as the Mighty Dump, was one of your favorite presents for Christmas or your birthday. The Mighty Dump was virtually indestructible.
After 45 years of being in business, Tonka Toys was taken over by Hasboro in 1991, moved to Mexico and the Mound headquarters was closed. In 2001 Tonka trucks were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y.
To honor the achievements of Tonka Toys, a new museum will open on June 15 at the Mound City Hall near the factory where toys were first made.
The name “Tonka” comes from the Dakota-Sioux word “Tanka” meaning “great” or “big.” When it first started, Tonka built two toys, a metal crane and a steam shovel. Mound in 1947, with a population of 2,000, became the employment capital of the area, hiring about 1,000 workers to build over 13 million trucks a year. Susan Alberts, of Lester Prairie, commuted to Mound to work at Tonka Toys in the ‘70s. She was a line supervisor for six years. She said she enjoyed working there with her co-workers. “Who wouldn’t enjoy making toys,” she said.
World War II was coming to an end in 1945 and manufacturing companies that made military products needed to find other products to stay in business. That was when the Streater Company of Mound, a builder of ammunition boxes, went into the wooden toy business. Streater Company, which was in the Mound school building, was put up for sale in 1947 and that’s when three men from Mound Metalcraft, Lynn Everett Baker, Avery F. Crounse, and Alvin F. Tesch, took over. Mound Metalcraft’s original plan was to manufacture garden implements but then thought it could get into the toy business to expand their sales.
November of 1955, Mound Metalcraft changed its name to Tonka Toys Incorporated. The logo at the time was an oval, showing the Tonka Toys name in red above waves, presumably honoring nearby Lake Minnetonka. The three birds above the name Tonka Toys represented the three founders of the company, Crounse, Baker and Tesch. In 1964, Tonka acquired the Mell Manufacturing Company in Chicago, which made barbecue grills, eventually under the label of Tonka Firebowl.
By 1975, Tonka Toys had become a global giant with facilities scattered around in eight different countries, and the Mound Plant employed over 2,000 workers and was still the backbone of the toy manufacturing operation.
In 1987, Tonka paid $555 million to purchase UK toy giant Palitoy. This debt led to the demise of Tonka Toys. Dec. 9, 1983 was the last day of manufacturing at the Mound plant. A decision that over the next eight years ended in 1991, when Tonka was sold to Hasbro, Inc. of Pawtucket, R.I.
Front, Vern Brandenburg and Mary Opheim, and back, Ron Pauly and Pam Myers. They belong to the Mound Historical Museum and provide tours through the Tonka Toys displays. Photo by Tom Hauer
Ron Pauly, who started as a product designer in January 1965, left Tonka Toys in April 1983, and was a crafted model maker and designer of the toys. “It was really fun to design toys and drive down the road and see kids playing in their sandbox with Tonka Toys,” Ron said. “And the management were great people to work for.” Ron was another contributor to the museum and has loaned more than 200 toys to the museum.
Lloyd Laumann, an assembly line worker for the Mound Metalcraft Company in 1955, is the largest contributor to this collection of classic Tonka Trucks, from fire trucks to cement mixers. He started in 1955 when he graduated from Waconia High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1956 where he served in Korea until his honorable discharge on June 11, 1958. In his retirement, Lloyd continued to have a great interest in Tonka Toys. He was Tonka’s vice president of manufacturing when he retired in 1984. He wrote various magazine articles highlighting the history of the company and co-authored a book on Tonka Toys. He donated more than 200 toys. He died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. His dream in, 2004, was to have a museum built for Tonka Toys. The museum first was located at the local bank building then it moved to a drug store. The city council of Mound made rooms available in the community building.
The museum is located at Westonka Historical Society Museum at 5341 Maywood Road in Mound. It is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday and will give tours on special occasions. They have a website at www.westonkahistoricalsociety.org.