Since I wrote an entire article dedicated to the History of Hot Wheels, it only makes sense to follow it up with the story of their biggest competitor, Matchbox! Actually, since Matchbox came before …
Since I wrote an entire article dedicated to the History of Hot Wheels, it only makes sense to follow it up with the story of their biggest competitor, Matchbox! Actually, since Matchbox came before Hot Wheels, I probably should have written these in reverse order, but oh well! Back in 1953, a British company called Lesney Products was in the business of manufacturing industrial diecast parts. They were not yet making the small diecast vehicles they’d later be known for; instead, they produced mostly mundane items like door handles, electrical plugs, and some larger toys.
Most people know Matchbox cars got their names from being the size of match boxes - but do you know why they are the size of match boxes? It’s a cool story: Jack Odell, co-owner of Lesney, was a father, and when his daughter, Annie, told him kids weren’t allowed to take any toys to school that were larger than a match box, he was inspired and saw an opportunity! Odell then designed a small scale of a steam roller, and yes, it fit inside a match box! Annie and her friends loved it, and soon afterwards he designed a miniature dump truck and cement mixer to complete the set, and sticking with the original motivation, the company decided to sell them in replica match boxes. As you know, the idea was a raving success.
Being a British company, it should come as no surprise the next vehicles they designed were British, including an MG Midget TD and a Vauxhall Cresta, which I’d wager the average American has never even heard of. As international admiration for Matchbox cars grew, however, a wider range of vehicles were introduced, including Fords, Volkswagens, and Citroën. Due to their small size, affordable price points, and incredible detail, the diecast vehicles were wildly popular; by 1968 Matchbox was the number one brand worldwide for small diecast vehicles.
During the 1970s, the rough economic climate in Great Britain took a toll on Matchbox, despite continued sales success. By 1982 Lesney sold the Matchbox brand to Universal Toys and manufacturing was moved to Asia. A mere ten years later, Matchbox was sold again to Tyco Toys, which was bought out by Mattel in 1997. The irony is, of course, that Mattel also owns Hot Wheels, which as I mentioned, is Matchbox’s biggest competitor!
Today, the average person uses the terms “Matchbox” and “Hot Wheels” interchangeably and generically, and probably wouldn’t know which was which without flipping them over to read the labels. But collectors know! If you’re one of those people, make sure to check out our December toy auction, we have several (boxed!) Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels crossing the block. Or, if you’ve got a Matchbox or Hot Wheels collection you’re ready to part with, give me a call!
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