1933 - 1983 Mettoy
After emigrating to England Philip Ullmann and Arthur Katz setup in workshop space offered by a subsidiary of Basset-Lowke (model train makers) in Northampton. Basset-Lowke relied on a lot of German-Jewish suppliers for their products such as Carette and Bing. The profits from toy manufacturing were used in rescuing other Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.
In 1934 Mettoy was created by Philip Ullmann to carry on production of tin plate toys. The company was based in Stimpson Avenue, Northampton.
In 1940 most of the British toy industry switched production to the war industry.
In 1941 commercial manufacture of toys was forbidden in Britain as being non-productive to the war effort.
As defence contracts increased Mettoy expanded. A newly built factory in Swansea, Wales, was leased for this expansion in 1944.
In 1945 toy production resumed after defence contracts dried up.
Mettoy now had a massive factory in Fforestfach, Swansea which had been provided by the government for defence work but their prewar pressed metal toys were looking old fashioned so they moved production to plastic toys. In 1948 they started manufacturing cast aluminium clockwork toys for the retailer, Marks & Spencer.
In 1950 they started producing diecast clockwork vehicles in varying sizes, however when metal restrictions were lifted in 1955 they decided to take on Meccano's Dinky Toys.
The initial design was of a Karrier Bantam, produced for CWS Soft Drinks. Mettoy then placed orders for mass produced zinc diecast vehicles with German producers. These vehicles were of modern construction and employed all of the latest features, even being available with the option of a friction based motor drive.
In 1956, wanting to take Dinky Toys head on, Playcraft Limited's Managing Director, Arthur Katz, decided to launch Corgi (Playcraft being a sister company of Mettoy). He named the toy car's product line Corgi in honour of the Welsh breed of dogs, he also hoped to try and associate themselves with the Royal Family who's favoured breed of dogs was the Corgi (he also wanted a short, snappy and memorable name in order to compete). Corgi cars differed from Dinky's in that they didn't just look like their real sized counterparts but also incorporated other realistic nuances such as plastic windows, opening doors, hoods and greater attention to detail. Corgi's toys were so successful that they undertook advertising campaigns on national TV to spread their brand and products further than ever before.
Mettoy became a public listed company in 1963.
In 1966 Corgi received recognition in the form of both the "Queens Award to Industry" as well as the National Association of Toy Retailer's "Highest Standards Award".
The late 1960's saw the launch of Mattel's Hot Wheels range which though were less accurate they were more hip and colourful attracting youngster's eyes and pocket money. This ate into Mettoy's profits. Also a terrible fire at the Swansea factory in 1969 saw stock built up to fulfil outstanding orders destroyed and retailers turning to rival Dinky Toys. By 1970, Corgi Toys Ltd employed over 3500 people in the production of toy vehicles. However the tide was turning. 1971 saw the company founder, Philip Ullmann die plus the closure of the company's Northampton factory along with the loss of 900 jobs.
Through the 1970s children became more demanding, no longer would small toy cars satisfy. Changes such as increasing media exposure and parents having more disposable income meant demand spread for more "exotic" toys and games. Such a sea change combined with the lack of investment and increased costs saw Mettoy's profitability fall. As they entered the 1980s changes to the economy relating to export taxes and other factors saw the company lose over £7 million of turnover (at this point Mettoy didn't just mean themselves but also Corgi and other brands such as Playcraft, Wembley Playballs, etc). A further loss of £2.75 million was announced in 1981, with similar disasterous results in 1982. Redundancies followed with the Northampton factory closure and all production was moved to Swansea, however the writing was on the wall...
The continuing bad run of luck saw the company start to look outside their specialist area and attempt to diversify to increase revenue and reduce risk.
Division manager Tony Clarke had long been keeping an eye on electronic toys and wanted to create Mettoy’s own "Speak and Spell". Being given the go ahead from the board of directors he contacted the electronics manufacturer Motorola who were based in Scotland to see what they could suggest.
Motorola suggested he looked at their “68xx” reference design which was essentially a sales catalogue for a number of Motorola integrated circuits, central to which was the MC6847 a video display generator. Dragon Data Ltd was born and shortly after mostly sold off and eventually became bankrupt.
Following several disasterous attempts to stave off the inevitable, Mettoy called in the receivers in October, 1983 and sold their remaining stake in Dragon Data Ltd to Pru-Tech.
In 1984 a management buyout was launched for Corgi which was successful and resulted in them trading under the name of the Corgi Toy Co..
1987 saw Corgi once again reach heady heights having been voted "British Toy Company of the Year" by the National Association of Toy Retailers.
By the end of 1989 Corgi Toys was bought out by arch rival Mattel who closed the Swansea factory during the first quarter of 1991 then moved Corgi's headquarters to Mattel's UK offices in Leicester..
In 1995 another management buyout (this time backed by Cinven) was launched followed by Corgi buyouts of the Lledo and Vanguard brands in 1999. With production moving to new premises in the Meridian Business Park, Leicester.
1998 Arthur Katz died, aged 91.
1999 once again saw Corgi bought out, though this time by China based Zindart.
2000 Corgi Sales and Marketing established new offices in the USA.