This article was taken, with permission, from the July/August 1997 issue of The Blueprinter, a magazine published byThe Ertl Company, Dyersville, IA
Aluminum Model Toys From Aluminum to Plastic
From Eight Mile Road in Detroit, Michigan to Highways 136 and 20 in Dyersville, Iowa, AMT's rich history spans nearly half a century. A written record of its initial years is nonexistent, leaving the historian to rely on recollections of those who were there during the company's first two decades, the '50's and '60's. Memories and scrapbook archives of former AMT employees like Paul Simon, pattern maker from 1955-1964, bring the company's story alive like no official written history ever could. The result is an intriguing legacy of eccentricity, humor and hard work spun together to create one of the nation's top model kit manufacturers.
Decades after the arrival of plastic assembly kits, the AMT name itself raises a curious eyebrow for today's modeler. An acronym for Aluminum Model Toys, it refers to the material used in creating the company's first product: pre-assembled promotional models, or "promos." In 1948, West Gallogly, Sr. began working on a mold for a 1946 Ford, fashioning it from an existing Danish friction toy. The Ford Motor Company was hustling to meet an increased public demand for new autos in this booming period, and a light bulb was glowing over Gallogly's intuitive head. The plan was to create a scaled-down mold, cast the new 1948 Ford in aluminum (the difference between the '46 and '48 bodies was slight), paint it in the manufacturer's various available body colors, and place it in Ford showrooms nationwide. Working from a rented, one-room shop near Detroit, the foundation was set for Aluminum Model Toys. Aluminum was the material of choice because of its ready availability and attractive cost due to the post-war scrapping of warplanes. These new auto replicas were available exclusively through dealerships as a reward for test driving or purchasing the latest full-scale models.
A successful lawyer from a wealthy family, Gallogly invested capital that made the infant company possible. Setting up shop on Eight Mile Road in Detroit, Ford became the primary promo subject matter in those fledgling years, due in part to the auto manufacturer's dominant presence in the market. However, according to Simon, there was another factor at work. It was said that Gallogly's grandfather was one of many people who had lent money to Henry Ford toward the construction of his River Rouge assembly plant in the late 1920s. It was the largest industrial complex in the world at the time and a model of production efficiency. As a result, a relationship between Ford Motor Company and Aluminum Model Toys was cemented years later.
In 1949, a revolutionary change occurred that shaped the future of promos and, subsequently, model kits. The advent of the high-output plastic mold injection method all but eliminated the use of aluminum. Plastic could now be molded in the desired automotive body colors, cutting back on the need for paint. Small metal parts, such as side trim and bumpers, were still utilized on a diminished level until the mid-50s, but an all-plastic body drastically reduced the cost of creating an aluminum shell. With this shift came a revised company name. Aluminum Model Toys now became the AMT Corporation.
Running the business for Gallogly in these early years was an experience pattern maker named George Toteff. "He was the spark plug of the operation," Simon said of Toteff. He piloted the company into the '50s, taking a "hands-on" approach from design to assembly. At this time, much of the actual production was performed by outside sources, leaving primarily design and final assembly in-house. Molding was out-sourced to businesses like Continental Plastics in Detroit, who produced windows and taillights for the promos. Continental remains in business today, manufacturing parts for full-scale autos in the Motor City.
Throughout the 1950's, AMT made a name for itself by producing a slew of successful, 1/25th scale promotional models. Sometime around 1958, however, another ingenious light bulb appeared over AMT designers. The existing tools used to create these promos were gathering dust in warehouses, intact and unused. A spark of inspiration - to whom it is attributed, is a matter of debate - provided a new purpose for these molds. Take an existing unassembled model - usually consisting of 15-20 parts - throw some extra parts in, perhaps louvers and fender skirts, and sell them to hobbyists. During the '50's, customizing was on the rise. The days of hot rods blasting across dry lakebeds were now giving way to street cruising and, consequently, an appetite for wild looks to accompany performance. Spreading out from California came a rising enthusiasm for automobile styling that was frequently expressed by hobbyists and their hand-made auto replicas. Customizing full-scale cars and trucks was a passion for many of these enthusiasts, and now there was a new world of possibilities for reworking their scaled-down versions. A '56 Buick could be assembled as a stock, custom or racing version out of one box, leading to the label, "3-in-1 model kit." In fact, Simon recalls the Buick being produced, selling 600,000 units or better. Further innovation was not far in the future and the path was paved for a cast of creative, hard-working characters to inhabit the AMT Corporation, from heads of design to final assembly.
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