|By Eric Bryan
Almost any American who lived in the 20th century will know the name “Tootsietoy.” Most famous for producing diecast toy cars, Tootsietoy continues making toys to this day. The diecast vehicles came in the familiar pocket-car size, but Tootsietoy also produced models in larger scales. Readers who shopped at five-and-dime stores will remember being able to buy some of the Tootsietoy cars loose from wooden trays, and in the 1960s and ’70s the smallest ones were available in blister-packs.
Tootsietoy’s origins go back to the Dowst Company, founded circa 1877 in Chicago by Charles O. Dowst. After obtaining a Line-O-Type casting machine, the company began producing buttons and laundry-related items. Soon they ventured into casting jewelry, animals, ships, whistles and other miniatures as premiums for companies such as the maker of Cracker Jack.
In 1901 the firm started producing pins, charms, cufflinks and other trinkets in tiny automobile configurations. Dowst also made some of the game pieces for the board games which evolved into Monopoly. In 1906 Samuel’s son Theodore Dowst joined the company. Theodore was instrumental in guiding Tootsietoy in its production of toy vehicles, acquiring patents for many of the models.
After some preliminary three-dimensional toy vehicles, Dowst released its first true model car in 1911, a miniature limousine. The company added a three-inch Model T in 1915 and a Ford pickup in 1916. These three models were the extent of Dowst’s toy car range into 1921.
In the early 1920s the company adopted “Tootsietoy” as a brand. The name was for Theodore’s daughter Catherine, who went by “Toots” or “Tootsie.” Dowst trademarked the Tootsietoy name in 1924. From 1923-25 the range expanded to include more cars, vans, Mack trucks, a racing car, bus, fire engines and a tractor and implements.
Tootsietoy increased its output in 1927 with a series of General Motors cars of 24 variations. Also that year Tootsietoy released a range of Model A Fords, each sold in its own color-coded box. Articulated trucks, a coach and a Model A sedan followed. Throughout these years the company began marketing vehicle sets. By 1928 Dowst was exporting Tootsietoys to the UK. A slogan used in Britain in 1929 was “Set the Pace with Tootsietoys,” while a December 1930 advertisement suggested you “Make Every Day Christmas” with the miniatures.
In the 1930s Tootsietoy introduced a Model A van, more Macks, military vehicles and a car transporter. Most of the toys were in the 3-inch size, but the car transporter carried 2-inch models which were five-cents each.
Tootsietoy enlarged its line to include aircraft, a caterpillar tractor and a land-speed record car, the latter model also being released in a larger scale in multicolored sets. Military-themed miniatures included a cannon, mortar and tank. The toymaker also released “The Funnies” series consisting of vehicles based on those used by characters in comics such as Andy Gump in 1932. By this point “Tootsietoy” had become a household name and was used generically for any small metal toy or trinket.
Tootsietoy upgraded its diecast material in 1933 from a lead formula to Zamak, an alloy of zinc, aluminum, magnesium and copper. New in the catalog this year were the Grahams, a colorful range of cars which were also available in sets. Tootsietoy cars and trucks were now fitted with rubber tires.
Tootsietoy brought out larger-scale Mack trucks in 1933. These included tankers, contractor sets, stake trucks and car transporters. These models were more sophisticated than those of previous lines, making 1933 a high-water mark for Tootsietoy. Though now in the midst of the Great Depression, the company flourished, issuing one of its most comprehensive and colorful catalogs in 1933.
Tootsietoy released its line of LaSalle cars in 1935. These were sometimes issued in two-tone paintwork of sky blue or deep yellow, silver, red or other colors. Some chromed models were produced, reportedly for General Motors’ promotional use. This year also saw the introduction of the Doodlebug, a model based on an experimental car which was a predecessor to the Lincoln Zephyr. Tootsietoy reworked the Doodlebug die in 1937 to create a model of a Zephyr. Some of these were fitted with a towing hook so that they could function as wreckers.
Further for 1935 the company brought out a line of small Ford cars which would fit onto a new Mack car transporter. There were also tanker trucks, pickups, vans, a camper trailer and a Zephyr rail car.
The 6-inch “Jumbo” (renamed “Torpedo”) series appeared in 1936. This range included cars, pickups, aircraft and a wrecker. For 1937 the company presented a camper trailer to go with the LaSalles (and later with a Lincoln), modified fire engines, and a Greyhound bus in the Jumbo series. The years 1938-39 saw the release of an armored car, a line of fuel tankers and a military supply vehicle.
Tootsietoy brought out its 230 series in 1940, comprising 5-cent vehicles intended to replace the 1935 Ford models. The range included cars, trucks and fire vehicles. The station wagon and box truck from this line were also released in approximately 1/43 scale.
For 1941 Tootsietoy introduced its up-tilted car transporter, a Greyhound bus and a row-crop tractor. Though the proposed “Giant” series was portrayed in the catalog, the range never appeared. At the opposite end of the scale was the “Midget” line which comprised vehicles and aircraft of about 1 ½ inches in length. These were one-piece castings similar to Monopoly game pieces.
Throughout the pre-war period Tootsietoy produced models of boats, aircraft, trains, animals, zeppelins, rocket ships, and made dollhouse furniture. During World War II Dowst devoted its manufacturing to the war effort, producing items such as buckles and detonators. Theodore Dowst, who had risen to the position of president of the company, retired in June 1945.
In the pre-war period Tootsietoy focused on models of contemporary vehicles. After the war some of these were reissued, but gradually the company shifted to making simpler, inexpensive toys.
From 1946-49 Tootsietoy’s output included oil tankers, cars, Mack L-Line trucks, racing cars, jeeps, a Greyhound bus, pickups and a stake truck. These were primarily in the three-inch size. In the 1950s came an army ambulance, vans, a coach, a fire pumper, estate wagons and Mack B-Line trucks. These were in the 3, 4 and new 6 inch size.
In the early 1960s Dowst purchased the toy and hobby division of Strombeck-Becker Corporation.