The motto goes that that the best things come in small packages. If this is true then it must surely be applicable to Lesney Toys, the original manufacturer of Matchbox model cars. After looking at the history of the Mettoy company (the creators of Corgi Toys), it would be unfair of me not to give the same treatment to Lesney, their distinguished rivals.
As recounted by a company history detailed in a clipping from the industry magazine ‘Toys and Fancy Goods’ for May 1962 (BT 316/7), Lesney Products began in 1947. During the Second World War, company founder Leslie Smith served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy (he was at both Dieppe and the D-Day landings), while Jack Odell, the company’s chief engineer, served with the 8th Army in North Africa. This newspaper clipping does not make any reference to Rodney Smith (unrelated to Leslie), the other original partner in the business. Rodney left for Australia shortly after the business was founded and, by way of the combination of his and Leslie’s first names, gifted the company with their name. The article notes that after discharge from the military, the men decided to pool their wartime gratuity payments into a company producing pressure die castings, primarily for the engineering industry.
Their original operation was based in a virtually derelict pub named The Rifleman in Tottenham, North London. They began producing miniature die-cast toy vehicles as a sideline when orders for the engineering industry were low. However, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 encouraged sales of a die-cast replica of the State Coach. Priced at a competitive 1s 6d, and picking up on the patriotic fever of the time, this was a huge seller. It instigated a shift towards toy production, which grew over the course of the 1950s, eventually requiring them to move the company base to a larger factory in Hackney so as to house an ever-increasing workforce. Continue reading »