Advertised as "Tonka Tough" and "Built to Last" ("A toy shouldn't break just because a child plays with it."), Tonka trucks have, for many people, become a lifelong fascination. As children, they had fun playing with the toys that as adults they now collect.
Mound Metalcraft, the company that gave Tonka Toys to the world, was founded in 1946 as a manufacturer of lawn and garden tools. Located in Mound, Minnesota, near Lake Minnetonka, Mound Metalcraft was soon approached by Streater Industries, another local company. Streater wanted to jettison their toy division to concentrate on their core business, retail store fixtures. Mound Metalcraft bought the designs and tooling for Streater's steam shovel and crane & clam. Issued in 1947 as the Tonka #100 Steam Shovel and the Tonka #150 Crane & Clam, the toys were immediately successful, with approximately 37,000 sold in 1947 and again in 1948. Mound Metalcraft was out of the garden tools business.
In 1955, Mound Metalcraft changed its name to Tonka Toys Incorporated. New models and lines - like the Tiny-Tonka, Mini-Tonka, and Mighty-Tonka - were added and millions of trucks were sold by the time the company was acquired by Hasbro in 1991. In 2001, Tonka Trucks was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Today, the steel trucks are still being manufactured (though in China, and with some plastic parts).
Because they were made to last, collectors have little trouble tracking down good examples of many Tonka models, but, of course, older specimens from 1947 through the 1960's are most in demand. In addition, some models and/or variations were marketed for relatively limited periods, making them somewhat rare. Also scarce are trucks that possess their original packaging, including the Tonka Look Book. The Look Book is a small catalog that was included with models from 1953 to 1975, and is collectible in its own right. Probably the rarest specimens are the Streater originals upon which the Tonka brand was based.
Values for most Tonka vehicles run from a few dollars to several hundred, and it really pays to be able to differentiate - for example, an early #100 Steam Shovel from a later manufacturing date (different labels, bumpers, wheels, etc.). So, if you are interested in learning more about this collectible, check out the resources listed below, and
"A Collector's Guide to Classic Mighty-Tonkas (1964-1983), by Mark A.Vaught - Link - Available on CD
O'Brien's Collecting Toy Cars & Trucks 4th Edition (Paperback)
Identifying Pre-70's Tonka Jeeps - Link to guide - This eBay guide by f100s is a helpful guide to those interested in Tonka's Jeep line.
Tiny Tonka Toys - Link to website - This site covers the Tiny Tonka line (1968 to 1984).
Tonka - Link to website - The official Hasbro/Tonka site.
Tonka Club - Link to website - Dutch website is nicely done with lots of history, facts, and pics - don't miss the 8 minute historical film showing the manufacture of the Tonka's Mighty Dumptruck - and join the club for free!
Tonka Toy Trucks - Link to website - One of the best sites on the subject. Includes Identification and Condition guides, history, links, restoration tips, more!