Let’s face it: There are few ways to demonstrate the invincibility of a toy that are as convincing as having an elephant stand on it. And, as viewers of the highly successful 1974 commercial could readily attest, the imagery merely re-enforced a fact that every boy in America already knew; Tonka Trucks are virtually indestructible. This reputation of durability has made Tonka easily the most recognizable name in toy trucks for over 5 decades. Let’s take a look back.
A product of the post-WWII era, Tonka trucks arrived on the scene in 1947, when a group of teachers from Minnesota took some leftover building materials from their struggling garden tool business and used them to create a small line of toys. Included among their products were two steel trucks: a steam shovel and a crane. Branding the trucks with a word borrowed from the Sioux Indian language meaning “great”, the Tonka Truck was born. In the first year alone, Tonka managed to produce 37,000 of these rugged vehicles.
Business began to steamroll for Tonka in 1964, with the introduction of the “Mighty Dump”, a banana-yellow dump truck that won the hearts of millions of young boys with a penchant for destruction. Much to their delight, they discovered that the toy could be abused beyond their wildest fantasies and live to tell the tale. Whether it was rolled down a hill, smashed into a wall, collided into other vehicles, or, for the less violent among us, simply hauling dirt from sandbox to sandbox, there was nothing that these trucks couldn’t handle.
In 1965, the product line expanded significantly with the addition of the Mighty Clam, Crane, Shovel, Scraper, Car Carrier, Bulldozer, Wrecker, Hydraulic Dump, Roller, Bottom Dump, Mixer, Loader, and Grater. Whatever your construction needs, Tonka had a truck ready to handle the job.
Tonka was sold to Hasbro in 1991 and further expanded the line to include motorized and smaller-sized vehicles. In 2004-2005, they introduced the “Toughest Mighty Dump Truck” and built a life-sized, road-worthy replica to travel across the country in what was called “The Tonka Truck Tour”.
Considering that over 250 million Tonka trucks have been sold over the last half-century, archeologists may someday discover that, whatever else could be said about our civilization, we seemed to hold a special place in our hearts for the little yellow dump truck. And more likely than not, these ancient vehicles will probably work just as well as the day they came out of the box.
If you put a few Tonka trucks through the paces in your childhood, we want to hear your memories in our comments section. Tell us how you tested their fortitude and whether or not they survived, as we remember one of the most durable toys ever created, here at Retroland.