The very first TONKA trucks were made by a garden tool manufacturer called the Mound Metalcraft Company in 1947. The firm was located in a basement of a school near Lake Minnetonka (Mound, Minnesota).
With only a handful of staff, Mound Metalcraft designed and manufactured approx. 37,000 toy trucks in the first year: a crane and a steam shovel.
Tonka means 'great' in Sioux.
The first product offerings were two models of tie-racks; the original product line was to focus on the manufacture of lawn and garden tools such as rakes, shovels, hoes, etc. Making toys started as only a sideline product. Still within their first 12 months of operation, they acquired special tooling from the L.E. Streeter Co. for a toy steam shovel. After a while, the tooling was refined, and Mound Metalcraft made their first two toys; a steam shovel and crane.
The brand became very popular after WWII and demand was much higher than production. The entire first batch of 1947 sold out in just a couple of months.
The founders attended the annual New York Toy Show in 1946, and after a successful debut there went on to manufacture 37,000 of the two metal toys; the #100 Steam Shovel and the #150 Crane and Clam. Tonka Toys enjoyed the start of what would be many years of success in the toy truck business. A resident of Mound, Minnesota named Erling W. Eklof, was called upon to develop the very first ‘Tonka’ logo. It only took him three days, and the logo was complete. He specifically designed the logo to represent the lake area where the manufacturing plant was located. The waves on the logo represented the waters of Lake Minnetonka. He also added three birds, and a distinctive swash type of lettering. In 1947 Mr. Eklof’s logo was accepted, and stayed with the company until 1955. During that time period, the very first catalog was printed in 1949.
Today, the brand has grown from just two truck styles into a line of more than 30 trucks, vehicles and toy play-sets.
The mission of the founders was to give America a toy that was durable, affordably priced, and fun to play with. Much time and effort was spent on designing and testing each Tonka truck. Over thirty years since its initial founding, the firm grew from six employees, to an elaborate manufacturing plant covering almost 1/3 mile along Lake Minnetonka with over 1,300 people that turned out nearly 400,000 toys each week. Their product line grew from its initial 2 toy models, to 125 toy models during that thirty-year period.
Tonka used many of the same design techniques as used in the mass production of trucks and cars in Detroit, Michigan.
The evolution of a new design always first began as a sketch, and then the visual concept tested with consumers. If it was well received, and won favorable reviews, the toy was then created from clay, by model builders; the toy was given a three dimensional form.
If the clay models received a favorable reaction, they were formed into metal or fiberglass. People involved with child supervision and early childhood development then reviewed these models. When the toy passed the inspection of this group, detailed engineering drawings and blueprints were prepared, and manufacturing specs were developed. Trial production samples were then made, and when completed, these were sent out for the toughest proving ground of all — the children!
Production and management staff would watch the reaction of children as they played with these toys. The staff then confirmed the toy’s play value, and rated how well interest was retained, as well as safety and ruggedness. As long as the toy passed all of the final tests, it was mass-produced and marketed.
In 1955, Mound Metalcraft changed its name to Tonka Toys, Inc. In 1991, the company became part of Hasbro, Inc.