The Tootsietoy manufacturing company evolved from beginnings in the late 1870s when the publishing company, Dowst & Co. founded by Charles O. Dowst, was established circa 1879. He was later joined by his brother Samuel, circa 1881, when the company was producing the National Laundry Journal. By around 1891 the firm was no longer listed as a publishing company, its business being described as Laundry Supplies.
The World's Columbian Exposition took place in Chicago during the summer of 1893, and it was at this exhibition that Samuel Dowst is said to have seen a new type-casting machine, the Line-O-Type, on show. Such a machine would have been of interest to the Dowsts with their publishing background, and Samuel is said to have recognised that this type of equipment could be adapted to cast more than Line-O-Type from molds using lead or a similar metal. The company began to produce items such as collar buttons and small promotional irons for use in the domestic market and eventually expanded the range to include shoes, skillets, tiny animals, whistles, rings, and ships that were marketed to the confectionery industry for inclusion as prizes in boxes of confectionery, pop-corn, and in, or on, wedding and birthday cakes. By 1899 the firm was listed as "Dowst Brothers Co., Confectioners' Supplies", and by 1904 the business was described as producing "Metal Novelties".
This effort by the Dowsts led to the start of a strong toy diecasting process with the first car being produced circa 1901 and the first three dimensional models being produced sometime between 1901 and 1910 (possibly in 1906). In 1911 the first model car appeared in the line – a tiny limousine style vehicle. This was followed around 1914/15 by a model of the Ford Model T Tourer and later, a Ford Model T Pickup.
Up until 1922 the toys produced had no trade name associated with them. The name Tootsietoy was registered as a trade mark on 11 March 1924, having been applied for on 7 February 1922. The application stated that the name had been used continuously since 20 April 1921, but apparently did not mention the use of the name on any of their products except doll's furniture. Some time prior to 1925 the Tootsietoy name began to appear in catalogues and on boxes of automotive toys, but it did not appear on the bottom of the castings themselves until circa 1927 with some unmarked castings still being produced after 1930.
In 1926 The Dowst company merged with the Cosmo Manufacturing Company, a company founded by Nathan Shure in 1892 that also made novelty items (for the confectionery, carnival and circus sectors). The new company was called Dowst Manufacturing Company and although the Shures bought out the Dowst company, it continued to be managed by Theodore Dowst (son of Samuel Dowst). Now together, they continued to make a variety of die-cast toys like train sets, doll furniture, airplanes, cars, and trucks, as well as Cracker Jack prizes and game tokens (for the likes of Monopoly).
The business continued to grow despite the influences of The Great Depression (1929 to late 1930s), brought about by the spectacular crash of the Stock Exchange in the USA, and World War II (1939 to 1945). Throughout the late '20s the company introduced many replicas of popular cars, such as those produced by General Motors (Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac) and Ford, and aeroplanes. By the '30s it had added to this range by the inclusion of the Chrysler Airflow, the La Salles and the Lincolns. These models also heralded the arrival of rubber wheels, and later tyres on metal hubs, on the range of models being produced rather than the previously used cast metal wheels. The '40s saw the introduction of Jumbo models (6 inch) and on the introduction of the USA into World War II, after the bombing of the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbour on the 7th December 1941 and Hitler’s declaration of war on the US (11th December 1941), the company turned to producing detonators for grenades and mines, belt buckles, and parachute buckles. Because of severe restrictions on the use of metal, Dowst Manufacturing only produced wartime toys made of paper.
After the War ended, the company returned to full-time toy production. Dowst added new items like western-style cap gun sets which proved popular by the late 1950s. Production of 3 inch, 4 inch and 6 inch vehicles continued throughout the 1950s and boxed sets such as the #7250 Tootsietoy Motors Set, #4200 Service Station Set and #4310 Pan American Airway Set proved popular as did boxed sets and blister packs of military items. By the end of the 1950s of the firm had passed to Nathan Shure's grandsons Myron, Richard, and Alan Shure.
With the increasing interest in electronic toys and motor driven vehicles, in particular slot car racers, Dowst bought the Strombeck-Becker hobby business and, in 1961, set out to cash in on this new area of interest by producing car and racecar sets. By 1963 they are said to have been producing in excess of 500,000 sets per year and as this represented the company's main income stream, the decision was made to rename the company to Strombecker Corporation. However the interest in slot car sets was short lived and by the latter part of the 1960s the company was facing financial ruin as retailers tried to return unsold sets. The Shure's were basically forced to return to more traditional toy-making and the company re-energised itself with the success of sales of the "Jam Pac" set of 10 diecast vehicles that sold for $1.00 in supermarkets and reputedly sold 10 million sets in its first year of production. Also during the 1960s the company obtained exclusive rights to the production of Kewpie Dolls but this was not a successful venture for them. It was also during this period that Alan Shure left the company to run a business that made small electric motors.
It was to be the late 1970s before the company added its next big earner in the form of the Chem-Toy company which made soap bubble toys under the brand name "Mr. Bubbles".
Following the death of Richard Shure in the late 1980s a move was made to find a partner to buy out Alan and Myron Shure's shares. Myron's son Daniel moved back from Hong Kong and became the company's President. Under Daniel's guidance the company made a number of acquisitions and by the mid 1990s was manufacturing around 60% of its range in 4 North American locations, with the remaining 40% (being mainly toy cars) manufactured under contract in China. Despite suffering a set back in the mid 1990s resulting from adverse publicity over the sale of realistic guns, the company was able to recover and by the late 1990s sales were again at record levels.
However the company's fortunes were again to change when Processed Plastic Company acquired Strombecker late in October 2004. Strombecker president Daniel Shure, moved over with the acquisition to join Processed Plastic Company and it was announced on November 1, 2004 that the Strombecker Corporation and Processed Plastic Company were to merge their two companies into a new entity, Tootsietoy Corporation. Processed Plastics was a 58-year old company that manufactured many plastic toys, including ride-ons, toy boxes, doll accessories and banks and held the license for Strawberry Shortcake. A family-owned company, most items were manufactured in the USA and sales fell victim to intense off-shore price competition. The combining of the two toy companies was expected to "strengthen our ability to bring out the best, and most innovative, new toys" a joint statement from Daniel Shure and David Bergman said. The merger was destined to be short-lived and the hope that the merger would lift the two companies to new levels was not to be fulfilled. Sales didn't rise as hoped and the new entity, The Tootsietoy Corporation, ran out of cash nine months after merging.
"America's oldest toy company" was forced to sell its intellectual property assets to J. Lloyd International of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, under the terms of a state liquidation auction in 2005. The auction is similar to a liquidation under Chapter 7 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code, and took place under Illinois law instead of federal bankruptcy law because the state procedures are quicker, more expedient and less expensive with more of the proceeds likely to reach the company’s creditors. J. Lloyd International reputedly paid about $600,000 for the Intellectual Property rights which included trademarks, copyrights, patents, licenses and corporate identity, including molds. The new owner, Jody Keener, indicated publicly that the products would be reintroduced to the marketplace by the time of the February 2006 American International Toy Fair.
The Processed Plastic Company ceased operations in early June 2005 and liquidated its inventory, machinery, equipment, and real estate. David Bergman said at the time “There was continued pricing pressure and it just didn’t let up. It became apparent to the bank a couple of months back there would be no reversal of fortune”. The company had been struggling at least since the 2005 Toy Fair, indicated one executive familiar with the company, leading to a series of cost-cutting efforts through the Northern spring.
J. Lloyd International sold off Processed Plastic's sand toy lines to Amloid Corp. of Saddle Brook, New Jersey, but continues to market Tootsietoys, Strombecker, American West, and Hard Body diecast (all former Tootsietoy lines) as well as its other lines, Tim Mee toys, Gearbox Toys and Collectibles, Grand Champions and Heavy Haulers to name a few.