Mobo may be one of the most popular toymakers that few Americans have heard of.
The company had its origins in 1921 when David Sebel, a Russian immigrant to England, founded D. Sebel and Co., Ltd., specializing in commercial metalwork. In 1931, David’s son Harry joined the firm, working his way from the bottom up, and the company expanded its product line, so that by the run-up to World War II, the company was in a position to aid the war effort by manufacturing components for aircraft, tanks, and other necessary items.
In the midst of war, Harry Sebel looked to the future. He realized that once the war was over, their company would need to provide continued employment by producing more consumer-type goods. Once it was decided that after the war the firm would concentrate on metal furniture and toys, Harry set to work on development.
Up to that point, most rocking horses had been made of wood and were fairly stationary; Harry wanted a metal horse that could be propelled without the aid of rockers. Mockups were made, and in 1942 a patent was obtained for the basic mechanism: pushing down on the metal “stirrups” (pedals) activated a spring action that forced the front (wheeled) legs forward and the hind legs (also wheeled) back. Releasing the stirrups allowed the legs of the horse to return to their original position. Locking devices prevented the horse from sliding backwards, so the cumulative motion was always forward.
Once the war ended, plans were set in motion. The company moved to a larger location in Kent to accommodate the separate furniture and toy factories. The furniture was to be made under the trade name Stak-a-Bye. Mobile Toys had been suggested as a name for Sebel’s toy division, but was rejected in favor of Mobo.
Production of the pressed-steel Mobo Bronco began in September 1947, and was exported to the United States in 1948, where it was such a hit that the company soon opened offices on Broadway in New York City and formed Sebel Products, Inc., an American subsidiary.
Around this time, Mobo also introduced a line – Puppy, Toy-Toise, Racing Car – of “remote-controlled” (via a cable) motion toys that captured the attention, not only of children, but adults who would race them at parties.
The Mobo line of toys continued to expand and was such a success that the company soon accounted for fifty percent of all British toy exports, and the Mobo Bronco remained the company’s most popular of its toys throughout its run. In 1950, Mobo introduced ‘Magic Steering’. The early horses could move only in a straight line, but Magic Steering allowed the rider to veer left or right by pressing down on the corresponding stirrup.
Eventually, toy giant Marx Toys got into the action with their Marvel the Galloping Mustang, introduced in 1967, but it was competition from Asia that finally brought Mobo down. Their painted, pressed-steel toys could not compete against the much-less-expensive plastic toys flooding the market. The last Mobo Bronco left the factory in 1971, and the company closed soon after the next year. Even Marx Toys could not withstand the onslaught from overseas, and filed for bankruptcy in 1980.
Over the last few decades, Mobo has faded from the collective memory, though in 1998 Hallmark did issue a Keepsake Ornament Sidewalk Cruisers Collector Series Mobo Horse, but it was dated 1939! Most people of the Boomer generation remember the horse, but not the company.
Collectors are, of course, concerned with condition – pressed steel rusts when exposed to the elements – but there are a large number of Mobo toys that have survived to this day because pressed steel toys have a habit of not being tossed into a landfill as casually as easy-to-break plastic ones. Most Mobo toys can be had for surprisingly low cost: a remote-controlled Mobo Racing Car with its original box recently sold at auction online for $17.37, but it is the Mobo Bronco that attracts the most attention, with many specimens selling for $100 to $300.
Interested in learning more about this largely forgotten collectible? Check out the resources below, and
Dave and Dusty – Toy Horse, 1949 (YouTube)
Marvel the Galloping Mustang (The Marx Toy Museum Online) – Lots of info!
Marvel the Mustang Commercial by Marx, 1969 (YouTube)
‘Mobo Bronco’ toy ride-on horse made by D. Sebel & Co. (MAAS Collection) – Highly informative site includes history and production notes (colors, etc.).
Mobo History (D & S Pedal Car Restorations) – Includes reference pics.
Mobo – The Online Bicycle Museum (OldBike.eu) – Dozens of clear closeup photos of Mobo products includes a helpful visual guide to dating Broncos by decals.
Mobo Toys – Bronco the Horse (Beamish Collection Online) – “Adventures in Collecting”
Tracy’s Toys (and Some Other Stuff): The Marvelous Mobo Horse (Tracys Toys on Blogspot) – Nostalgic.