History of Ertl tractor toys.
The wonderful farm toys that myself and many of you remember playing with as kids, have a rich and interesting history. We are going to take a look at the history of Ertl Company, the company that has made hundreds of thousands of model toys. You might be surprised to find out that Ertl Company has made a lot of models other than farm models. Ranging from model cars to airplanes.
Tractor toys is what they are known for and it is were they got their start, back in 1945, after the end of WWII. First, lets start a little farther back with a look at the founder of the company.
Frederick Francis Ertl
Frederick Francis Ertl was born May 28, 1905, in Germany. In the 1920s the Ertl family packed up their bags and moved to the United States. They found a home in Dubuque, Iowa. Frederick (Fred) Ertl started as a journeyman gray-iron molder for the Adams Company making furnace parts out of cast-iron.
He married Gertrude M. Sauser on September 3, 1929. They stayed in Iowa, deciding to raise their family there. Here they had five children, and I can tell you that children are not cheap. With that said, in 1945, times got hard for the family.
1945, The Beginning
When World War 2 ended in 1945, it caused a crash stop to production. Fred lost his job at the Adams Company and his family still needed to be fed. So with no job and hungry children, Fred needed to figure out a way to make an income.
He looked around and found a place that gave him defective aluminum aircraft pistons, he then took them home and melted the pistons down. Then he created a mold out of sand and poured the melted aluminum into it. Mr. Ertl just made his first model tractor.
With a nail for the front axle and a bolt for the rear, He made a crude model of an Allis-Chalmers WC. He had the whole family helping to make the model tractors. The going was slow, he sold some tractors, but not a lot. Fred pushed on and in 1946 he started making a farm toy in the model of a John Deere tractor. This one was closer to a true 1/16th scale model and had much more detail in the design. He also moved production out of his house and into a 1,040 square foot building. .
Sales of the toys started to pick up, and he kept refining how he made the toys. They were being made better every year, he started to add rubber wheels and continued to increase the detail. In 1947 Ertl got his business incorporated and moved to a larger 11,000 square foot building. He also got the rights from John Deere to put their name on his toys. Things were looking up.
Production of a new John Deere model began, and once again the process for creating the toy was improved upon again. Before all models had a driver cast into the tractor, this was the first one to not have a driver. Also, John Deere and Ertl decided not to put a model number on the tractor. They wanted the owner of the toy to decide if it was a model A of B. This is still a source of debate among collectors to this day.
Ertl Company Inc. continued to grow. They kept refining the way they make toys, always making the best quality possible. In 1959 Fred Ertl moved his company to Dyersville, Iowa and they are still there to this day.
Whenever there is an up, eventually there is always a down and the Ertl family sold the business in 1967. The company would change hands a few more times in the next couple decades. Ertl did expand from just making farm toys, to producing model cars, airplanes and making different model kits.
The early 1980s were very hard for all manufactures of farm toys. Many companies struggled and closed their doors. Ertl struggled also, but it had one thing that others did not.
The kids who had gotten rug burns on their knees playing with Ertl’s tractor toys, were now adults and those adults had fond memories of those toys. This started the toy tractor collecting era. It was this that helped to keep Ertl going, it was their toys that ingrained into the memories of children well into their adulthood. Then they passed their love of tractor toys to their children.
The 90s and today
The collecting craze has not stopped, and because of this Ertl is alive and healthy. In 1998, Ertl bought out Britians, which was a European toy company. That move made Ertl the largest toy manufacture in the world. 1999 Racing Champions bought Ertl and created Racing Champions Ertl Corp. This is were the company is still at today.
If you enjoyed this article, I recommend reading “Ertl Tractor Toys”, by Patrick Ertl and Catherine Lee Phillps. It is available on Amazon.
Thanks for reading,