Toltoys Company History – Bringing Star Wars to NZ
This is the first in a series of articles on the Toltoys company and their NZ-specific Star Wars toys and games, with this installment taking a look at the history of the brand. This article is based on a succinct company history published in the 1983 General Mills Creative Products Ltd catalogue (shown below), combined with research through NZ and Australian company registers.
Toltoys (NZ) Ltd, the New Zealand subsidiary of Australian Toltoys Proprietary Ltd, manufactured and distributed a wide range of licensed and original toys, games and models in New Zealand over a period of a number of decades. Famous examples include the Toltoys cardboard Death Star playset, which many local fans cherished as kids. The dominant bulk of famous Toltoys product originated through well-known toy brands owned by General Mills, including the likes of Parker Brothers and, well known to Star Wars fans, Kenner Products .
Toltoys began under the name of Alex Tolmer & Associates Pty Ltd, in the mid ’50s, lead by managing director Alexander Richard Tolmer (prior to this, Tolmer was sales manager with John Brent and Company, in Australia – their wares included diecast models sometimes advertised using the brand Brentoys in Australia and Brentware in NZ). The company was originally engaged in the sale and manufacture of toys and related products in Australia only. One of Toltoys‘ initial claims to fame was the introduction of, via agreement with the original manufacturers, hula-hoops and frisbees to Australia in the 1960s (fans of the Coen brothers’ film “The Hudsucker Proxy” will see the humour in that otherwise trivial coincidence). Management of Toltoys stayed in the family, with Alex’s son David Tolmer taking the reigns through the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Prior to the release of Star Wars in 1977 (and the subsequent rise of movie tie-in products), Toltoys sold 75% of its business to General Mills Inc, USA, and in 1975 became a fully owned subsidiary of General Mills. In 1977 General Mills entered the New Zealand market in a joint venture with NZ company Pearce and Drum, and Toltoys NZ Ltd was incorporated as a company in New Zealand. General Mills, through Toltoys, then started to market, distribute, and in a number of instances, manufacture (or, at least, assemble or package – at that time, it was much cheaper to ship/import components than completed and boxed toys) a wide range of toys and games that very soon extended to licensed Star Wars products, including, of course, 3.75″ mini-action figures!
Kenner’s history is even more complicated, but it explains a lot of the product relationships behind Toltoys lines. The ridiculously quick version goes something like this: …formed as a company on Kenner Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, by Albert, Philip and Joseph Steiner; original products include the ‘Give-a-Show’ projectors, from 1959, and ‘Spirograph’, from 1966; purchased by General Mills in 1967 – General Mills other acquisitions had included the originator of Play-Doh, and, in 1968, Parker Brothers; Kenner negotiates the Star Wars license in 1977, and goes on to double its sales over the next 3 years.
The balance of Kenner’s history is of tangential significance to the Toltoys tale, but is fun to follow as it does cycle back around to directly intersect with the descendant of the Toltoys company:
Kenner Parker Toys Inc is spun off from General Mills in 1985, and then purchased by Tonka Corporation in 1987. Tonka reorganises this group into 4 operating divisions, Kenner Products, Parker Brothers and Tonka Products (US) and Tonka International. Hasbro Inc (a derivation of its initial company name, Hassenfeld Brothers) enters this growing family tree when it buys the Tonka Corporation in 1991. Kenner still retains it brand and name at this stage. Hasbro’s other divisions include Milton Bradley, Playskool, and the Hasbro toy division. Hasbro restructures in 1994, forming 2 groups – the Hasbro Toy Group (Kenner, Tonka and Playskool) and the Hasbro Games Group (Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley); Star Wars action figures are reborn under the Kenner name in 1995; in 1997, Hasbro announces that it has negotiated the rights with Lucasfilm to produce the toys from the Star Wars prequel movies; Hasbro closes Kenner in 2000 – Star Wars products live on under the Hasbro brand. (Thanks to KennerCollector.com, and RebelScum.com who cover this considerable additional detail).
In parallel with the existence of the Toltoys company in New Zealand, Hasbro NZ has existed as a registered entity since August 1976, originally under the name World Games Company Ltd, evolving to Milton Bradley NZ Ltd on 22 March 1983, then to Hasbro NZ Ltd on 06 March 1992. This left Hasbro positioned to manage the NZ market for Star Wars toys when their resurgence began with the new Star Wars action figures of 1995 – the action figures were branded as “Kenner“, because at that time Hasbro owned the Kenner company/brand and was still using that moniker on its toys. Hasbro NZ was technically removed from the NZ Companies register on 24 April 1996, but still functions locally from its Albany, Auckland office as a branch of Hasbro Australia Ltd, which in the 21st century is a a subsidiary of Hasbro Incorporated (US). Hasbro Australia Ltd, is a direct continuation of the company that Alex Tolmer originally set up in 1955… and as such has now come full circle, having been to be the conduit through which vintage Kenner/Toltoys Star Wars action figures originally made their way in to New Zealand, and now being the connection through which we get our modern-era Hasbro action figures and vehicles.
Toltoys (and Related) Company Timeline
Key: Green = Toltoys NZ/Aus, Grey = US-based companies/divisions, Blue = Hasbro NZ/Aus.
- 1955 – Alex Tolmer & Associates Pty Ltd incorporated by Alexander Richard Tolmer, selling and manufacturing toys in Australia only.
- 1955 (December) – Toltoys commences business.
- 1967 – General Mills purchases Kenner Products.
- 1970 – Toltoys sells 75% of its business to General Mills Inc, USA.
- 1975 – Toltoys becomes a fully owned subsidiary of General Mills.
- 1976 (August) – World Games Company Ltd formed/registered.
- 1977 (January 05) – Toltoys NZ Ltd incorporated in New Zealand.
- 1977 – General Mills Creative Products Ltd (Australia) enters the New Zealand market in a joint venture with NZ company Pearce and Drum.
- 1982 – General Mills Creative Products Ltd purchases Toltoys in entirety. Toltoys NZ Ltd and Toltoys Pty Ltd operate in parallel in New Zealand and Australia respectively.
- 1983 (March) – World Games Company Ltd changes its name to Milton Bradley NZ Ltd.
- 1985 – General Mills (US) separates out Kenner Parker Toys Inc as a division.
- 1987 – Tonka Corporation purchases Kenner Parker Toys Inc from General Mills, and reorganises it into the Kenner Products operating division.
- 1990 (October 13) – Toltoys NZ Ltd is dissolved as a company.
- 1991 – Hasbro Inc buys the Tonka Corporation.
- 1992 (March) – Milton Bradley NZ Ltd changes its name to Hasbro NZ Ltd.
- 1994 – Hasbro restructures to form the Hasbro Toy Group (includes Kenner) and the Hasbro Games group.
- 1995 (February 13) – The company initially known as Alex Tolmer & Associates undergoes a name change to become Hasbro Australia Ltd, which remains currently registered and operating under that name (as a subsidiary of US-based Hasbro Inc).
- 1995 – Star Wars action figures are reborn under the Kenner name
- 1996 (24 March) – Hasbro NZ Ltd removed from NZ Companies Register.
- 2000 – Hasbro closes Kenner. Star Wars products live on under the Hasbro brand.
Celebrate the Toltoys cardboard Death Star with apparel from ‘Toys on a Shirt’.