The Strombeck-Becker Part 3: The Post Wars Era and the Divestiture

by Steve Remington

 

VJ-Day Through 1961

Many new kits were issued by StromBecKer as the decade of the forties moved to a conclusion. The first ones after the war were of improved design though didn't incorporate much in the way of extra detailed parts on the smaller model types. Several pre-war kits were in the 1947 catalog according to Walt Grigg , the PBY and the Boeing 314. The Lockheed P-80 kit , C32, (later changed to F-80) continued the 1:72 scale size that started with the wartime spotter kits. The P-80 had a clear plastic bubble canopy (the only plastic part) and this type canopy became standard for additional fighters in the 1:72 series. This model had no landing gear but a wood and wire stand was provided, becoming standard for the jet kits. Wood parts such as tip tanks were nicely turned. The biggest improvement was the incorporation of water-release decals for markings and details. The P-80 insignia were printed in the pre-1947 style. The 1:72 scale B-29, Kit No. C250, and the P-61, Kit. No. C33, also appeared in the early postwar period. The photo below shows a Strombecker display booth at a model trade show in about 1946; the show is probably in Chicago. Of particular interest is the fact that all six of the wartime recognition model kits are on display along with black built-ups.

Charles "Chuck" Rowell, Sales Manager for the east coast holding a P-61

Charles "Chuck" Rowell

The two photos below are part of a Strombecker Display

One clue as to which kits StromBecKer was offering immediately following WW2 can be seen in the kit listing below; this is from the National Model Distributors (Chicago) catalog from around 1946. Note that the C6 Boeing Clipper and the C8 Flying Boat (PBY) are listed right along with the C250 B-29. Also note that the spotter models, S25 Curtiss SBC4 and S26 Curtiss P40E, are also offered for sale by this distributor. Were these leftovers? It is evident that some of the preWW2 kits were being sold to dealers after the conflict.

This is a rare listing of these rather diverse era kits from StromBecKer

Train kits were carried over and new kits in HO gauge were issued throughout the 1950s.

The Rock Island Rocket, Kit 1937, was typical of the 1930s kits that continued to sell after the war

A full line of railroad kits were developed, the HO gauge Katy (M.K.T.) Box Car, Kit No. R-12, from 1948 is pictured above along with the printed cardboard side ("Authentic Trim Panels") typically used with the RR kits.

The first of the post-war train kits was the 2-8-2 Mikado in HO guage or 3.5mm=1 foot, Kit No. R1

This makes up into a very handsome locomotive and tender which is then the motive for all the railcar kits that followed. Metal couplers, trucks and wheels were not in the kit but had to be obtained if the locomotive was to be used for rolling stock.

This plan is dated 1948

Wood trucks and wheels sufficed for display purposes and are included in the kit

The same Mikado was used for the R-100 Freight Train kit which also included four cars in addition; the Tank Car, Refrigerator Car, Box Car and Caboose

The StromBecKer kit number R210

It is the Baltimore & Ohio "New Columbian" Streamliner in HO scale, a four-unit train including the power unit, diner and coach - a total of 44-inches in length.

A kit of the Baltimore & Ohio streamliner coach "Akron"

The kit, shown above, is number R213 is in HO gauge and is dated 1949. It was still available in 1958.

Kit R200 "Streamliner" is the "City of San Francisco," a four unit train, similar to the R210 shown above

The StromBecKer Kit number 1831-GT of the DeWitt Clinton Train in "0" gage

It is a postwar version of the 1936 kit; the kit plan is copyrighted 1948. This four unit, 1:48 scale train measures 14" in length. Check out the number of individually cut wood parts, and all for $1.19 in the 1950s.

The centerfold from the 1946 B-24J booklet

It is difficult to place the date of original issue for most of the kits as only a few have a copyright date printed on the plan and many were sold for two decades. Decal sheets usually carry a date on the back but that can be a reissue or reorder date since StromBecKer did not make their own decals. The 1:72 scale was adopted for most of the military aircraft models. The B24J, kit C76, and the B-29, kit C250, were 1:72 scale, 4-engine bombers These are superior kits with all the detail parts made of wood (including the landing gear struts for the B-29) with the single exception of the propellers which are plastic in these kits. The Northrop P-61 Black Widow, kit C33, is also a beautifully crafted kit with all wood parts except the plastic propellers. Both the B-24J and the B-29 kits came with small booklets from "The StromBecKer library of famous models." These booklets are copyrighted 1946. I would assume that the B-24J and B-29 kits hit the market in 1946 to be competitive with Testors who also had a 1:72 scale B-29 pine kit (and a B-17) on the market although the Testors were inferior in quality and detail to the StromBecKer models. Walt Grigg informs that the 1947 catalog includes the B-24 and B-29.

The B24Kit

1949 catalog sheet from Kern's Hobbies, Binghamton, NY

It is instructive to see who the people were that Strombeck-Becker considered to be their potential customers. Some, but very little, advertising was done in aviation and modeling publications and ads were also carried in Parent, Children's Activities and a Life toy ad.

A November 1945 women's magazine

Strombeck-Becker's photo budget must have been pretty low as the boy and his B-24 is the same as in the B-24 booklet. Not exactly a "turn on" for the potential adult hobbyist buyer is it? However, Strombeck-Becker knew their market and sold wood kits when many others were going under.

We can read below the picture the following text: "Mother, you will help your son in a real creative way if you encourage him in the hobby of modelbuilding. Fingers grow nimbler, imaginations keener. He learns to be more patient. He plans big, creative things for Peacetime America as he builds...Your son will "go for" StromBecKer solid wood model kits...trains and planes...because they're authentic in detail, just like the real thing! You'll approve of them, too, because the parts come cut and shaped ready to assemble. No knives to cut his fingers. No messy chips or shavings. No assembly delay...Choose StromBecKer famous kits...for more fun for Christmas, and after! "

Strombeck-Becker offered a number of dealer promotional items such as built-up models, mats, literature, posters, streamers and model kit displays which displayed all the kit parts along with a completed model and the box - an additional airplane model was usually mounted on top.

  A 1948 counter cabinet (KD4) featuring the "Pioneer"

Some lightplanes in 1:48 scale (Swift 125, Swift 125 Seaplane, Piper Cub Super Cruiser and Seascout, Bonanza) were included in the early post-WW2 product lineup along with some civil airliners such as the Convair Flagship, C38, DC-3, C35, (1947) and the American DC-6, C36 (copyrighted 1947); these were all-wood kits with wire landing gear struts and stamped metal props. The Boeing B-47, kit C45, (1952) joined more of the early 1950s jet line-up with additional 1:72 scale fighters, the Chance Vought Cutlass, C49, the Sabre Jet F-86, C44, the FJ-2 Fury, C46, the Lockheed F-94, C43, and the Republic F-84, C47. One experimental airplane, the Douglas Skyrocket D558, kit C42, was isssued.

DC-3 kit number C-35, first issued in 1947

StromBecKer kits were occasionally used as promotional items or premiums and packaged in special boxes which in some cases included special items particular to the advertised agency or company. The James H Franklin & Associates organization of Atlanta was involved in promotional material, particularly airplanes; mention is made of this group in association with plastic airliner model kits in mailer boxes in the 2003 John Burns compilation, Plastic Aircraft Kits of the Twentieth Century (and Beyond). John writes, "Sometime in the mid-1950's, this firm marketed airliner kits in plain brown, one-piece mailer-type boxes with decals. These could have been airline promotional items or gifts but nothing more is known at this time. Only one kit has been confirmed thus far, the ex-Hawk 1/126 Convairliner with Braniff decals. Value is 125-up." The StromBecKer Bonanza Airlines version has the standard StromBecKer DC-3 kit contents, including the plan showing American Airlines.

A special Bonanza Airlines decal, dated on the back with "3-55"

The mailer box

The Hobby Merchandiser ran a 4-page article on Strombeck-Becker. The club program is explained as follows by a company executive: "The recently renewed Captain Jet and Strombecker Model Makers Club 'is cleverly planned to make every boy who builds Strombecker sell his pals and bring them into your store,' explains Charles Rowell, manager of the playthings division." (July 1953).

StromBecKer Model-Makers Club Official Badge - 1953


A counter display from the same period

This photo is taken from a newspaper in the early 1950s and pictures two of the early principal executives of Strombeck-Becker, R.D. Becker and George Strombeck, the enginering genius of the company

R.D. Becker, at left, presents a plaque to George M. Strombeck in honor of completing 50 years as a teacher of the Men's Fellowship Bible class of the Evangelical Free Church, Moline, Illinois. Photo courtesy of "Bud" Becker. George Strombeck had retired from the company in mid-1943.

The Captain "Jet" promotion for the StromBecKer Model-Makers Club was the subject of a 1953 comic book-style handout available at kit dealers - note that some adults are shown on the cover, but the story centers only on the target youth who, in the end, receives the approbation of his father and "Mr. Jones at the bank." 

Advertisement for Captain Jet, on his table a B-47

The B-47 box 

The StromBecKer dealer promotional model, B-47 display in the Jim Larsen collection. Jim Larsen photo

The Douglas Super-6 Clipper , kit C48, represents the DC-6B of Pan American, the "Clipper Priscilla Alden." This kit featured plastic props. An updated "China Clipper", kit C51, of 1955 kept the nostalgic "first airplane kit" of StromBecKer's in stock with updated shaped wood parts and with the addition of plastic props and of course, the water-slide decals which featured Pan American Airways markings.

Dealer's sell sheet for the updated "China Clipper", Kit C51, circa 1955. Note that the back side shows the line which includes the all-plastic D25 Sea Dart.

The China Clipper Kit C51, 1955

The kit was a complete change from the original A51 kit. The fuselage is one piece and has corrugations and the hull is stepped; the wing is properly shaped and the nacelles are finer. The two-sided plan is a finely detailed rendition of the airplane.

The revised parts of the C51 kit

This kit has proven to be difficult to find - perhaps fewer were manufactured as the wood kit business slowed down by 1955 - note that the China Clipper kit in plastic, and in the same scale, came out only two years later so it is doubtful that this C51 kit was produced for more than a year or so.

C51 Wings

C51 Poster

Typical small ad in "Model Airplane News", December, 1949

Small ad in "Air Trails", October, 1951

This StromBecKer kit of the Cutlass F7U-3 is in 1:72 scale and features a clear canopy and a wire stand - it was issued in 1953 as the last of their jet line

The playthings division created numerous new toys during this period; mentioned in 1953 was the new hobby-toy, the "Tug-Apart", previewed at that years MIA Toy Fair along with the newly introduced B-47 kit. At one point in the late 1940s, the company produced toys for the Duncan Toy Co. and sometime later, the Duncan yo-yo. A complete line of toy trains (for tots and youngsters) was continued from the pre-war period.

A typical toy, Engine Number "999" of the "StromBecKer LINES"

Pre-school learning toy train is a recurring theme for StromBecKer. Later toy trains, by 1955, featured plastic wheels.

As mentioned above, plastic wheels and redesigned toy trains appeared in the later 1950s. A portion of a StromBecKer brochure, "All Aboard! for the biggest train value in railroading history!


Strombecker's brand new PLAY TRAIN PACKAGE"


The StromBecKer logo for their toy line


Toy helicopter "Whirly-Bird" with plastic parts


Here are two more StromBecKer whimsical wood toys from the 1950s aimed at the preschooler:

Pull-a-Tug Number 412-100

Eggberts Racer 16 Number 521

In the mid-1950s, Strombeck-Becker began incorporating more injection-molded plastic parts in their new airplane kits. The all-plastic "solid" kit market was expanding rapidly and the StromBecKer all-wood kits probably began to be less competitive, both from an appearance and price standpoint when compared to all-plastic kits which were gaining a foothold. Hawk, Monogram, Comet and others were switching from wood to plastic. Monogram went through the same mid-1950s experiment with wood and plastic in their line of Super Kits. StromBecKer made two small missile kits (Regulus and Matador) using plastic for lifting and control surfaces and nose cones; these two kits had no plan - the back of the box showed the assembly.

A simple, "built" Regulus I, kit no. M1, with an unauthentic color scheme

Oddly, this was the only model kit produced by any company of the Regulus I missile although numerous plastic kits were made for the Regulus II which was never operational. This odd colored Regulus is one of the StromBecKer pre-built models sold in packs of two, one Regulus and one Matador, with two color versions.

The Matador Pack


The Lockheed XFV-1 V.T.O., kit C50, 1954

This is a particularly nice kit with a lifting-lid box and which has about one-half of it's parts made from plastic and represents the interim period before StromBecKer jumped into the all-plastic kit hobby field. Note that the box proclaims, "Plastic-Wood Solid Model." Also, it was in this time frame that the capitalization of "BecKer" was omitted in the logo and changed to "Strombecker" - this alteration may have been to de-emphasize R.D. Becker's role in the company as will be noted later in this story.

R.D. Becker comments on the kit business during the crucial 1952 through 1955 years. "The model kit business continued with ever-increasing sales, with a peak sales record of over three million kits sold during the year 1952. Our regular line of toys continued with moderate success, but did not keep pace with the accelerated sales of model kits". This trend did not continue however, as he further states, "During the years 1953 and 1954, the trend away from wooden model kits and the increasing popularity of plastic kits became quite apparent, with an accompanying loss of total sales. During the years of the wooden model kits their sales appeal had increased to the point that their sales accounted for more than 50% of our total production. During the years 1953 and 1954, sales on model kits practically passed out, and it was evident that in order to maintain our leadership in the model kit industry, we would be compelled to enter the highly competitive plastic model kit field.
"At the stockholders' meeting of April 21, 1955, it was reported that the year 1954 had been the most difficult one in more than thirty-five years. The plastic kits made by competitive companies were now available in large volume and at competitive prices, and had caused a loss of 75% of the model kit business since 1952. This had caused a substantial loss, the first in thirty-seven consecutive years, and in the light of this, a decision was made to add plastic production to our facilities. The necessary equipment was purchased and installed, and some of the kits we produced were quite well received. Tooling costs for plastic kits proved to be very high, and in order to properly amortize the heavy die cost, it was necessary to attain a very high level of sales on each item for which we tooled. We also found ourselves in a highly competitive field in which we were the newcomers, without the years of know-how. Consequently, in spite of a fair volume of sales, the years spent in the plastic field were not successful when measured in profits, and we find the President's report of 1959 showing a deficit of $85,394.44."

The B-17F kit, C77, came out in around 1955 and was advertised as a "great new plastic and wood kit." No idea why they chose the "F" model since all of the parts are different than the wartime spotter B-17E - therefore the tooling must have been different. A number of plastic parts were incorporated such as cockpit windows, crew canopy, turrets, nose, landing gear struts, engines and propellers. This must have been the "last hurrah" for the wood/plastic kits as subsequent new ones were all-plastic. A "window" was in the lid so that the detailed plastic parts could be seen - a pretty good indication that wood use was on the way out and plastic was being emphasized - or at least promoted. A very nicely drawn and detailed, two-sided plan. The decal photo below shows that the decal sheet for this kit of the "Yankee Doodle" features the post-1947 insignia for this WW2 airplane!

B17 Box

B17 Kit


B17 Decal

B17 Parts

B17 Plan

B17 Plastic Parts

B17 Wing


Dealer's sell sheet from around 1955 showing the two "Plastic and Wood" kits, C50 and C77

The StromBecKer Model Makers Club was promoted on the 1955 B-17 plan. Note the age group of the "President"

A very nice built B-17 model from the C77 kit by collector Jim Hensley. In my opinion, that model is just as visually satisfying as any of today's plastic kits.

Succumbing to the plastic boom, as mentioned,the first all-plastic StromBecKer kit was the Navy XF2Y-1 Sea Dart, kit no. D25, which came out in 1955.

Dealer's sell sheet for the Sea Dart. Note New York advertising address.

Note that the STROMBECKER logo changed sometime between 1957 and 1958 . It was at this time that StromBecKer continued to attempt marketing the wood kits (probably from inventory) by adding new packaging by placing the kit contents in plastic bags which could be easily displayed on hanging boards. A F-86, Kit No. WB44, is pictured below with the later logo which dates the kit as being 1957 or so; the price remained at the original 69-cents. These bagged kits are seldom seen.

On the original kit plan, StromBecKer has the following comment: "Another 'first' faithfully reproduced in the Strombecker model, this time in plastic." The kit is very simple as the plan shown below indicates.

Sea Dart Plan

The F86 Kit

The 1957 edition of the Modelbuilder's HOBBYCRAFT Cyclopedia carried a full page listing of STROMBECKER wood airplane kits, 22 of them.

The plastic kits became more sophisticated as demonstrated by this 1958 kit of the Temco TT-1, kit D36, in the "Pin-Up Box Cover"

The graphic of the airplane on the lid could be easily removed and a clear plastic shield underneath retained the kit parts. A quality kit in 1:42 scale that later was made by Aurora from leased molds in 1962.

The "China Clipper", Martin M-130

It had been the first wood airplane kit, A51, and a post-war updated wood version, C51, was issued in a plastic kit version, D31, in about 1957 and for some reason, the same scale of 3/32"=1' was retained (nostalgia?).


StromBecKer introduced a line of scale, rubber-powered plastic flying models made from vac-u-formed thin styrene in an appropriate color for the airplane.

The de Havilland U1-A Otter, kit FM-24, had a wingspan of 14 3/4" or 1:48 scale and came out in 1957

About sixteen kits were in this 1957-1958 flying series, some rubber, some gliders (jets).

Sling Launched F-102A, Kit SM51, 1957

Spirit of St. Louis, Kit FM-2 in 1:24 scale

The Strombecker trademark, 1957

Starting in 1957, StromBecKer issued the first kits from the popular Disney productions "Man In Space" and "Mars And Beyond", plus the TWA Moonliner that appeared at the Los Angeles Disneyland until 1962 (Viewmaster reel set 855 "Tomorrowland" has stereo pictures of the defunct TWA ship.) The Disney kits were very successful products for StromBecKer. They followed these with three more space kits based upon Krafft Ehricke designs developed for Convair: the Convair Manned Lunar Recon Vehicle (D37); the Convair Manned Nuclear Interplanetary Vehicle (D38); and the Convair Manned Observation Satellite (D39), from 1959.

Walt Disney's Man-In-Space Model Kit, D26-100, was issued in 1957

Designed by Wernher von Braun, the fourth stage is in a delta wing configuration. There is an excellent full page color photo of Heinz Haber with the Disney XR-1 studio model this kit is based upon on page 270 of the August 1955 issue of National Geographic. Von Braun's ship is a true classic of '50s spacecraft engineering. The first issue of StromBecKer's kit was in bright yellow styrene plastic. The second issue, D-26A was gray-green styrene plastic. Issued in the UK as "Spaceship," Selcol kit 500. Decals and instructions for StromBecKer D26 incorrectly show the wing markings as "RX-1" instead of the correct "XR-1."

What great publicity for the XR-1! Walt Disney standing with Werhner von Braun holding a model of the XR-1.

Five StromBecKer models on Walt Disney's desk: The D35 Satellite Launcher, D32 Space Station, D27 TWA Moon Liner, D34 RM-1 Rocket Ship and D26 Man-In-Space Ship. The large XR-1 studio model is located behind him.

Fourth Stage Cabin "RX-1" with a wingspan of 7.1 cm.

The first  Man In Space Rocket  Instructions

The Man In Space Rocket Box

The Man In Space Rocket Plan

First issue of Man In Space built around 50-years ago - complete, but the decals are a little aged.

The front side of the instructions for D26/D26A unfold into a wall poster (see above for portion). The D26 kit has a full color box as seen above. Walt Disney's Disneyland Rocket To The Moon Model Kit, D27-100 was used as a Disneyland theme park attraction for Tomorrowland. This passenger carrying rocket is marginal in terms of being a true aerospace design. The first issue of this kit is in a purple and yellow "monochrome" box. The second issue, D27A, was renamed "TWA Moonliner" and had a full color box.

British Selcol kits; each of these boxes is imprinted with "Made in England under license by Selcol." These box pictures, along with others in this section, are provided by Christian Bryan. Does anyone know how much of this kit was made in England?

Walt Disney's Space Station Model Kit, D32-100

Designed by Wernher von Braun. This doughnut-shaped station utilizes nuclear energy for on-board power. The kit cleverly duplicates the supporting guy wires by including a small spool of thread to string between the hub and the outer ring.

Walt Disney's RM-1 Rocket Ship Model, kit number D34-100 was issued in 1957. Designed by Wernher von Braun. This was planned as an orbital recycling job, built around the fourth stage of the "Man-In-Space Ship." The ship was intended to carry a crew of four, was propelled by chemical engines burning hydrazine and nitric acid, and had a lance-like extension at the front of the ship containing a nuclear reactor for onboard power. Included with the kit is a detachable "bottle" spacesuit with a figure.

The satellite Launcher Kit D35

Some toys were made for Walt Disney Entertainment and plastic kits of space ships were introduced which were based on the Disney movie "Man in Space." The kit pictured above was also designed by the German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun. Kit number D35-100 came out in 1958. This ship was intended as an alternate use of the "Man In Space Ship" launch vehicle, designed for lofting satellites and putting cargo into orbit. In the "Man In Space" film, it is seen with "CR-1" markings on the top stage. What's unusual about this kit is that it is done in clear acrylic plastic, and has paper cut-out inserts to represent the arrangement of internal fuel tanks. It includes a small Sputnik-like satellite and a removable nose cone. A D35A kit version was issued in 1959.

Many of the StromBecKer kits feature box art by Cal Smith. Three gift sets using StromBecKer space kits were issued. These are cellophane wrapped with a printed banner. Each includes three kits. No. 713 contains D26A, D27A, and D34; No. 714 contains D32, D34, and D35A; and No. 715 contains D37, D38, and D39. All are extremely rare. All of these space kits are valuable collector items today and demand prices in the hundreds when complete. Glencoe now owns the StromBecKer molds for the space line and began reissuing them as part of Glencoe's "Blueprint for the Future" series.

Cover page of a ten-page, fold-out catalog from around 1958. Each page featuring a genre of kits, both wood and plastic. For wood kits: "Combat Jets", "Famous Aircraft","World War II Fame", "Commercial Planes", "Private Planes", "Fighting Ships", "Famous Trains", and for plastic: "Plastic Flying Models" and "Plastic Models" showing the Sea Dart, X1B, Man in Space Ship and TWA Disneyland Rocket.

Bell X-1B Kit D30

Bell X-1B, kit D30A, featuring a bust of Chuck Yeager

Strombeck-Becker had an exhibit of space kits and flying models at the Hobby Industry Trade Show and Convention in Chicago in February, 1958. In attendance at their booth 58-59 were Charles Rowell, Ray Carlson, Ed McKelvey and Larry Sandberg.

Also in 1958, the "Modelbuilders' Hobbycraft Cyclopedia," an accumulation of product lines from just about every hobby manufacturer, has a page devoted to Strombecker wood kits with the title, "Solid Wood Kits Develop Skill and Craftmanship." This one page has a complete listing of every Strombecker wood airplane kit available in 1958.

Listing of Strombecker rail kits. Catalog pages are also devoted to Strombecker plastic kits and plastic flying models.

Strombeck-Becker has been given credit by some for inventing the slot-car track. Slot car sets became a large part of the StromBecKer toy business from the late 1950s into the early 1960s. The plastic slot cars were primarily sports cars in 1:24 or 1:32 scale. Motors, tracks and different road-race sets were sold. Though not covered in this article, the slot-cars were a big part of the company's toy effort and must have represented a sizable chunk of their dwindling toy business around 1960. The ad shown below is from 1960 and establishes the Moline factory as being in the slot car business. A 1972 obituary for Frederick K. Strombeck mentions that he designed and developed the original slot car racing toy.

This Strombecker ad appeared in the October 1960 issue of "American Modeler" magazine

Note that the factory is listed as being in Moline, Illinois. The same issue, on page 6, shows the Strombecker set along with a set from Aurora. The article states that, "The model race car field, especially electric powered 'tracked' autos, is busting out all over." Following the sale of the toy line and the Strombecker trade name in 1961, the "American Modeler", by December 1961, carried an article on the history of slot racing (as opposed to track racing) sets showing Strombecker as a division of Dowst Mfg. The date of the first Strombecker set is unknown to me, but by the end of 1961 there were about a dozen manufacturers in the slot racing field. Polks Modelcraft Hobbies imported the English Tri-Ang Scalextric line in 1957 and Strombecker probably followed soon after. The Aurora and Minic line were in HO scale, but the Scalextric, Strombecker, Hawk, ITC (Ideal), Marx and others were in larger sizes. The slot cars were the single most important toy product for Strombecker at the time of the sale of the toy line and it was this concept that was sold.

"American Modeler" showed this comparison of available slot car track sizes in the January 1962 issue. An explosion of slot car manufacturers within a year or so. Lionel soon took over the Scalextric line of slot cars.

The D42 Maserati Kit Box

The D42 Maserati Kit parts

The Pylon Type Racing Play Box

The Pylon Type Racing Play Parts

Plastic sports car assembly kits in 1:24 scale that were motorized (using batteries - either on-board or in the pylon) were nicely scaled "toys" that were to be used for around-the-pylon type racing play (tethered). The motors are indicated to have been "Made in Japan." This same D42 kit, shown above, was packaged in a small mailer box, 4" x 6 1/2" x 1 1/2", and used by the Autolite company as a premium; the box reads, "Here is your Grand Prix Racer Kit from Autolite." The same D42 StromBecKer plan is included.

Play watercraft were also part of the StromBecKer line; the leaflet below shows the electric outboard models around 1960 which used on-board batteries.

Kit number D2-129, 16 Ft. Sports Runabout with electric motor. This is a rather obscure kit, early in the "D" series injection molded product line.

Also in 1960, StromBecKer made an Allis Chalmers 1960 D-Series tractor.

D Series Tractor Box

D Series Tractor Parts

StromBecKer also made the Allis Chalmers "D" Series tractor in a completed version for use by Allis Chalmers as a promotion item.

As the 1960s began, Strombeck-Becker made a quiet exit from the toy business. Quoting from the March 15, 1981 Quad-City Times newspaper, in an article about Strombeck Manufacturing Co. entitled "Where wood still reigns as king" with a subtitle, "Once it was toys and yo-yo's - now, ice bucket handles by the million", the author stated, "By 1962 though, inroads of foreign competition made toy manufacture unprofitable and it was abandoned." There is more to the story than that simple decision as we'll get to in the next section.

 

Divestiture of the Strombecker Toy line

As in any company of long standing, many corporate changes occur - some which the company wishes to publicize, others which don't make it into newspaper articles. The death of one founder and concurrent retirement of the other gave control of the company, in 1959, to the second generation, F.K. "Freddie" Strombeck.

Along the corporate way, J.F.'s son Fred K. ("Freddie"), born in 1922, joined the firm and became vice-president (1943). R.D. Becker's brother, T.H. Becker, was at one time the CFO/Treasurer of the company and another brother, Paul, also became part of the firm as Sales Manager in the 1930s but died in a railroad accident in 1938. Correspondent Loree Paulson offered the following information about this accident (note her further comments in the "Comments" section below): " This was the famous New York Central Twentieth Century Limited wreck on the Horseshoe Curve in PA. He had been to the New York City toy show. My Dad worked in New York City and they met. Another Company person or persons were there (a Strombeck or Becker?). This other person was flying home, but Paul Becker refused to fly because it was too dangerous."
J.F. Strombeck died in 1959 (on a train while returning from a trip to Seattle for a Young Life board meeting) resulting in F.K. assuming duties as President and General Manager. Designer Andrew Bergstrand's son Harold became the chief designer by 1953 and they worked together on model projects. George Strombeck's son Vernon became a major stockholder in the company when George died, and Vernon later became president and chairman of the board, replacing Fred K. who died in 1972 (see obituary below). R.D. Becker's brother T.H. Becker continued as Company treasurer until his retirement in 1959. When J.F. Strombeck died in May,1959, there were undoubtedly some repercussions within the management and groundwork laid for change - and some bad decisions. But this corporate/family succession list is getting ahead of our story.
J.F. Strombeck was a devout Christian, as was his family, and his sound business ethics, allegiance to the Moline community, and devotion to children's toys were probably related to his religious beliefs (my guess but I'm betting it's a good one). J.F. walked the walk in his belief, and over the course of the years (centering around about 1940), J.F. authored five extensive books on the subject of salvation - and this was while he was an executive of Strombeck-Becker. His books have been kept in print for years with reprints that I've found as late as 1991. Several quotations are offered from reviewers and publishers below to give you an idea of the man who was half of the team behind those kits that we enjoy collecting.
Excerpted from "Disciplined by Grace" in a reprint by Kregel Publications: John Fredrick Strombeck (Dec. 6, 1881 - May 9, 1959) was a Christian businessman who placed his trust in the finished work of Christ early in life. Over the years he served the Lord as a director or advisor to the Belgian Gospel Mission, Dallas Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, etc. With a great desire to communicate the truth of God's grace, J.F. Strombeck authored 5 books: "So Great Salvation," "Shall Never Perish," "Grace and Truth," Disciplined by Grace," and "First the Rapture." Excerpted from a 1991 reprint of "Shall Never Prish: Eternal Security Examined", Arthur Farstad had this to say: You don't have to be a Bible College or seminary type to enjoy this book, and it will be a help to all your friends who need to know about eternal security. Warren Wiersbe writes in his foreward that he was blessed by reading this and other books by Strombeck as a young believer. This reviewer had the same experience. Born of pioneer Swedish stock in 1881, John Fredrick Strombeck went on to be a successful businessman who gave generously to Christian causes and spent his time writing and speaking to everyday Christians on controversial subjects in a sound and scriptural way.... Essentially Strombeck writes biblical theology for the masses and how they (and we all) need it! Denomininationally, he belonged to the Scandinavian-rooted Evangelical Free Church. If interested, you can access some of his material at www.muhammadanism.org.
J.F.'s nephew Vernon started a religious bookstore in Moline and ran Strombeck Press or Strombeck Agency, Inc. which printed J.F.'s books in the 1950s. As mentioned above, Vernon later became president of Strombeck Manufacturing Co. Whoa! - you say, where did that corporate name come from - I thought it was Strombeck-Becker Mfg. Co.
Different sources each tell part of the story but hesitate to put it all together - so here goes my compiled version. Strombeck-Becker Mg. Co. did drop out of the toy business in 1961; their toy line (mostly slot cars) was sold off for a pittance (but not the unpopular wood items). R.D. Becker "elected" to retire in 1959 and retained a seat on the board of directors. He received a $20 radio as a gift for his 48-years of dedication! Note that R.D.'s brother, T.H., was also retired in that same year. Apparently because of differences in management policies with the President, R.D. submitted a letter in February, 1961 resigning his seat on the board and declaring that he had disposed of his corporate stock in the company. At the same time, the company name was changed, eliminating the "Becker" and the corporate name became Strombeck Manufacturing Co. Vernon Strombeck stated in his interview for Swedes in Moline, Illinois that the plastics business and competition in the 1950s brought on "hard times." He said that they were $500,000 in debt and broke in 1962. Vernon borrowed money and paid off bills himself for the sake of the family name and kept the company afloat, though barely. The toy line sale in 1961 was insignificant and didn't help their financial situation at all in 1962. Vernon did not say anything about R.D. Becker's departure from the company, nor anything about his cousin, Fred K., the company's president.
Strombeck Manufacturing Co. didn't sell the wood kit line as part of the Cosmo/Dowst deal as far as I can tell - only the trademarked name "Strombecker" and all of the plastic line. Probably as a means of bringing in some income during the "hard times" of the 60s, they produced a batch of jet kits, D-558, Sabre and F-94A, for Bersted's Hobby-Craft of Monmouth, Ill. (appears on the box only as "Bersted's")which were nicely packaged in sturdy lid boxes; decals in these kits indicate 1967. Since they had sold the "StromBecKer" name to Cosmo, these kits carried the "Woodline" label. These must have been the last wood airplane kits produced by the original company. Today these kits are valued less than the "real" StromBecKers, yet they are probably more historic.

The D558 Kit

Early train kits also made it into the Woodline series - packaged in plastic bags

StromBecKer's first wood kit line (1934) and the last boxed kit series produced under the name of "Woodline" (1967)

Strombeck Manufacturing Co. ceased to be a family business in 1980 when it was purchased by the Chicago Cutlery Co. Sometime following that sale, the operations ceased in Moline. A grandson of R.D. Becker, Mark Ingebretsen, along with his wife Karen, informed me that they visited Moline in 1992 and found that the old Strombeck Manufacturing building (51st Street and 4th Avenue - the assembly of kits and playthings had been conducted in plant no. 2 in downtown) was still standing - appropriately, one floor was being used for slot car enthusiasts. Mark and Karen visited with Vivian Strombeck, an elderly relative, and contacted some local residents who remembered founders J.F. Strombeck and R.D. Becker.

Photo of remaining plant taken in 1998 by Bud Becker

Vivian Strombeck was the older sister of Fred K. "Freddie" Strombeck (i.e. the daughter of J.F. Strombeck). Bud Becker visited her last in Moline in 1998 and she has since died. She was a close friend of Bud Becker's sister and in Bud's words, "a fine lady."

So who bought the toy line and why is there a company today ("today" being up to 11/1/04)with the name of Strombecker Corporation? It was appropriate that the StromBecKer toy line was purchased by the oldest toy manufacturer in the U.S. The company started as the National Laundry Journal trade paper in 1876 in Chicago, published by the Dowst Brothers Company. Samuel Dowst saw the new Mergenthaler Linotype machine at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (sound familiar?) and found that it could manufacture the collar buttons etc. that Dowst was already making - it led to the manufacture of metal novelties and the first die-cast toy car in 1906, a Model T Ford. Charles O. Dowst's grandaughter "Toots" became the namesake for the now famous TOOTSIETOY in 1924. A Chicago businessman, Nathan Shure, owner of Cosmo Manufacturing Co., was making competitive products - in 1926 Cosmo bought Dowst and the Shure family has owned the line since then. Cosmo/Dowst bought the Strombecker toy line in 1961 and TOOTSIETOY became a division of the Strombecker Corporation. However, more recently, Strombecker, as a corporate entity, has finally vanished. It was announced on November 1, 2004 that the Strombecker Corporation and Processed Plastic Company have merged their two companies into a new entity, Tootsietoy Corporation. "The combination of our two great toy companies will strengthen our ability to bring out the best, and most innovative, new toys," said Dan Shure, president of Strombecker, and David Bergman, president of Processed Plastic, in a joint statement. This merger was destined to be short-lived.
Following on the heels of this merger, the latest in the checkered recent history of the Strombecker Corp. developed on July 15, 2005, putting to an end the name "Strombecker" on corporate rolls.
Nine months after merging with the then-oldest surviving toy company in America, Strombecker Corp.-Tootsietoy, Processed Plastic Company sold its intellectual property assets to J. Lloyd International of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, under the terms of a state liquidation auction.
The 129-year-old Strombecker was launched in 1876 and under the Tootsietoy line of brands included Hard Body die-cast and plastic vehicles, Mr. Bubbles, American West role-play and cap guns and Tootsietoy, among others.
"They were hoping the synergies of the two companies [Processed Plastic and Strombecker] would lift the two companies out of the doldrums-at least that was their theory," Wheeler (consultant who ran the liquidation auction) said. "Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Sales didn't come in as they hoped they would and they ran out of cash."
J. Lloyd's principal, Jody Keener said, "We'll go forward with our sourcing to continue to manufacture and sell the product line."
Good-bye and farewell to Strombecker.
The slot-car products moved to Chicago in 1962 and you'll see the Strombecker Corp. address of 600 N. Pulaski Road, Chicago 24, Illinois on the Strombecker slot cars beginning in 1962.
R.D. Becker wrote the following which can be said to be the epitaph of the StromBecKer kit line: "At the stockholders' meeting of March 17, 1961, it was reported that due to severe losses in recent years in the plastic field, it would be essential to the Company's survival that this line be discontinued. It was recommended that an agreement be entered into with the Dowst Manufacturing Company of Chicago in which the model kit tools be loaned to Dowst, including the road-racing sets; that the name of the Company be changed from Strombeck-Becker Manufacturing Company to Strombeck Manufacturing Company, that the trademark, trade names, and good-will connected with "STROMBECKER" and "STROMBECK-BECKER MANUFACTURING COMPANY" become the property of the Dowst Manufacturing Company. It was also decided to sell all or part of all equipment for the manufacture of plastic parts." Note that R.D. Becker had resigned from the board and disposed of his stock just the month prior to the decision to sell the plastic toy line to Cosmo/Dowst. To an outside observer, there breeds therein some dissension with the management of the company! R.D. returned to the board in 1963 as operations almost ceased until Vernon Strombeck intervened with an input of funds. R.D. Becker died in 1965.
Frederick K. Strombeck died in 1972 at the age of 50.

 

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