Tonka Tradition Continues This Holiday Season

Tonka mighty dump II

By Thomas Voehringer

The holidays evoke traditions, and when it comes to toy trucks what's more traditional than a Tonka truck under the tree? Sure to elicit squeals of joy from truck-loving youngsters, Tonka trucks have been around for 68 years. And Tonka collectibles make a great gift for young-at-heart oldsters. As the shopping season shifts into high gear, we share the history of this venerable maker of realistic toy trucks.

It was 1946 when a quartet of Minnesotan businessmen joined forces to create Tonka Toys as a brand of steel-stamped trucks made by Mound Metalcraft. Even then the toys had working features like a tethered clamshell scoop, articulating booms and rolling wheels. Consumers responded favorably to the price, quality, strength and relative realism found in these new toys.

The first over-the-road truck models came in 1949. The trucks were modeled after real-life counterparts and sported GMC styling cues; they were later replaced by trucks bearing a resemblance to Ford trucks. Most major truck manufacturers have seen their products reflected in the Tonka product line at one time or another.

Pickup trucks made their Tonka debut in 1955, and the next year Mound Metalcraft officially changed its name to Tonka Toys. These first pickups were styled after the popular fat-fendered Ford F-Series. The trucks were stamped from 20-gauge steel and sprayed with Dupont Dulux enamel truck paint. Details were rudimentary, but like the other Tonka offerings they had operating features.

It wasn't just the vehicles that made Tonka successful. It was the accessories that supported them. Multivehicle collections with specialized accessories could be purchased for all sorts of backyard duties: hauling, paving, grading or digging. The expanded lineup brought improvements in realism, adding interior detailing, windows and even "hydraulic" features.

Imagination was an integral part of the Tonka experience, but until the mid-1960s that was almost entirely supplied by youngsters. In 1965 Tonka stretched the link between reality and fantasy with futuristic "glassed-in" cab-forward trucks inspired by the 1964 Ford Turbo Titan II Gas Turbine concept. These Gas Turbine editions pushed the series into the purely conceptual arena. This set the stage for later excursions into fantasy, like Tonka's 1983 GoBots line of transforming robot/vehicles.

Following the GoBots introduction there were two significant expansions to the Tonka line: the introduction of the Mini-Tonka in 1963 and the Mighty Tonka product line released the following year. The first marked the miniaturization of familiar models for a younger audience, while the Mighty line was just the opposite, a supersized dump truck. The big yellow dump became Tonka's best-selling model ever.

1947 tonka II

Throughout most of Tonka's history, truck bodies remained stamped and painted steel, but beginning in the 1980s more color-molded plastic was used until some products, primarily those aimed at younger children, were almost entirely plastic. This provided greater safety for both the young user and home furnishings.

After 45 years Tonka was purchased by Hasbro, the largest toy company in the world at the time. Hasbro continued to market the Tonka brand, and in 2001 Tonka was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Tonka has even served as the inspiration for actual vehicles: In 2002 the Ford Mighty F-350 Tonka concept truck hit the auto show circuit, revealing hints at the future of the F-Series pickups. These days the 2014 Ford Tonka F-150 can be bought by adults.

Tonka is now owned by Funrise. The "Steel" editions still feature stamped and painted steel-body vehicles. Technology has been integrated into Tonka products without discarding time-honored traditions. A Tonka-themed 1:1 scale Toyota Tundra was prominently featured at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in November. Tonka partnered with Team Lucas Oil for off-road and tractor-pull competitions too.

Today, Tonka offers 10 different lines of trucks that encompass technology and play patterns to appeal to every segment of the toy market. It's a complete cycle: Trucks inspire toys, toys inspire people, and people purchase trucks. And some even pass them down to the next generation, continuing the Tonka tradition.

To start your own tradition, go to the Tonka micro-site to find your first or favorite Tonka truck. 


Tonka Toys Timeline

1946: Mound Metalcraft is formed and creates the Tonka Toy line modeled on steel toy designs from Streater Industries.

1949: Tonka produces trucks based on GMC styling cues.

1955: Tonka reveals its first pickup truck based on the Ford F-100.

1956: Mound Metalcraft officially changes its name to Tonka Toys.

1961: Tonka becomes a publicly traded company.

1963: Tonka introduces its Mini-Tonka series.

1964: The Might Tonka series makes its debut.

1965: Tonka introduces cab-over designs based on the 1964 Ford Turbo Titan II concept truck.

1983: Tonka unveils GoBots, robots that transform into vehicles.

1991: Hasbro buys Tonka Toys.

2001: Tonka is inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

2012: Funrise buys Tonka's "Steel" lineup.

2014: Grownups can buy the 2014 Ford Tonka F-150.

Photos by the manufacturers, Thomas Voehringer, Mark Williams


1961 tonka II

Tonka 50th anniv. II

Pewe_Jeep_Mighty Dump Used II

Pewe_Jeep_PU1 II

Pewe_Jeep_PU2 II

Ford Tonka F-350 Front II

Ford Tonka F-350 Rear II

B Tonka F-250 II

E TONKA Central Park II

Tundra Tonka 1 II



That Tonka F-150 is hot looking!
The Ram Boys have to agree

Turbo Titan was a Chev, not a Ford

"That Tonka F-150 is hot looking!
The Ram Boys have to agree -- Posted by: Tom#3 | Dec 14, 2014 7:56:31 AM"

Glad I'm not a "Ram Boy" then, because I think it's ugly as sin. The only pickup truck in the US that I really like the looks of right now is the Colorado, with Ram coming in second.

Instead of these bullsh!t stories why doesn't test pickup trucks like trucktrend, motortrend, and caranddriver? Compare hds, sport trucks, base models, off road trucks, aftermarket trucks, aftermarket parts (performance and non performance), rehash older truck tests and specs like caranddriver's archives. Take a hemi ram and do a cold air intake comparo and put them all on a dyno. Test a winch. A bed cover. Bed rails. Side steps. Exhaust. Good lord, exhaust is like the number 2 thing on a truck with tires being number 1. Do a tire comparison. Have a random truck of the week spotlight in which u go in-depth into say a jeep scrambler, c/k 10, f-100, d-150. Give us a history lesson and remind us of where pickup trucks came as well as where they are going. There should be a place at the top of the wwebpage for this. Test the same truck with all its different ring gears. Come on Mark Williams, I know u have it in u to turn this website around. Be creative. Currently is just a digital bar for pickup truck owners minus the beer, pool, tvs, and ladies and times ten on the ego flamed arguments.

Tonka trucks are made in china. Build a name on an american made product, then speak of tradition and heritage after you go overseas? Consumers won't care right? Make a stand, your dollar is your biggest vote.


SCROOGE! This is a story about Christmas coming in 2 weeks and toys under the Christmas tree.
This story brings back pleasant experiences when I was a kid with the toy trucks I used to play with.

maybe you can find something more interesting to read on your smart phone

I still have that dump truck! Well, somewhere....

Slight correction. Tonka is still owned by Hasbro. Funrise bought the production line from Tonka, and is using the Tonka brand and trademarks under license. The Tonka name will be phased out over the next 5 to 10 years, allowing Funrise to work in a new name during the transition period.

@imoore - just as well.......... Tonka trucks of my childhood were considerably better built than the current crop of Tonka toys.

@Josh you raise some very valid points. I'd love to see a comparison between a 2014 and 2015 identical spec F150.

Never happen because Ford would blacklist PUTC or whom ever does it.

Lou BC--Haven't you heard of the new aluminum Tonka, gets better mileage and costs more. Just toying with you.


I agree with you, the old models are the best. Just a few months ago a bought a red Tonka Jeep Wagoneer fire chief car at a yard sale for $5.00, and looking nearly mint. I'm still looking for a Gladiator pickup just like the one pictured above.

Hasbro outsourced Tonka for the same reason it outsourced GI Joe (originally made in Rhode Island): hourly wages. It's a shame, because both toys were cheapened over the years.

Luckily for my farm-toy collection, there are some excellent companies like Spec Cast making tractors with exquisite detail and in metal. Downside for these US-made toys? $75 per. Yep. That's what a US made Tonka of the 50s-60s quality would run today.

Maybe we should do it anyway, so kids would have fewer toys and cherish them more?

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