The classic Matchbox cars have been beloved childhood toys for decades. The toy vehicles were first created by a British company in the '50s, but the idea behind the little collectibles was really all because a dad wanted his little girl to be able to enjoy her toys at school.
In the 1940s, a couple of friends named Leslie and Rodney Smith (no relation) started a business together in London. Blending their names together, they created Lesney Products. Initially an industrial company, Lesney Products started out making parts for agricultural and automotive companies. After they hired an engineer named Jack O'Dell, they had no idea that toy cars would soon be in their future.
Initially, the company dabbled in toy cars while their regular business was slow, but after the success of the Coronation Coach, inspired by Queen Elizabeth II's coach in the early '50s, they refocused their efforts.
O'Dell's daughter wasn't able to bring toys to school with her unless they fit inside of a matchbox, so the toys were reconfigured to be that small size and the name "Matchbox Toys" stuck. Once the '60s rolled around, Matchbox was the most popular toy brand in the world. They sold their toys as a gift set in matching matchboxes as a tribute to their name.
In addition to race cars, there were also cement mixers, dump trucks, Volkswagens, Fords, Mercedes Benz and even Disney cars. The company faced some competition in the United States with other diecast car brands like Hot Wheels but hit it big with their Models of Yesteryear and Superfast Matchbox series that came with a race track. The little plastic toys were everywhere in no time. The price guides the company set for itself set it apart from the competition, generally coming in cheaper than other competitive model car sets on the market.
Sadly the Matchbox brand went bankrupt in England in the '80s, with diecast vehicle sales just not being what they were in the '50s and '60s. Mattel, who already owned Hot Wheels, ended up purchasing Matchbox in 1997.
The Lesney Matchbox vehicles had early on recognized the potential for an adult audience of collectors and Mattel capitalized on that. Various Matchbox models including the Models of Yesteryear, Dinky and Convoy were sold as "Matchbox Collectibles" at a higher price.
Despite ownership changing, Matchbox toys continue to be special to children even to this day. Major retailers like Target continue to sell the brand and carry on the love for new generations.
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