THE READING ROOM
Toys Made In Buffalo, New York (Part I)
Locomotive manufactured by the Buffalo Model Co.
Iron ore from Michigan's upper peninsula, coal from Pennsylvania, and plenty of electrical energy from Niagara Falls made Buffalo one of the leading steel-producing sites in the US. Grain arriving from the West in the 1850s and through the 1950s made Buffalo the world's largest grain port. (Think Cheerios and brewing.) There were 19 breweries in the city at the turn of the 20th century.
Buffalo boasted 30 automobile manufacturers in the early 1900s; Pierce-Arrow was one of them. The city was also home to Curtis-Wright Aeroplane Co., the world's largest plane producing company during WWI.
Famed as an architecturural center, its architects included, among others, Louis Sullivan, Milton Beebe, Louise Blanchard Bethune, J. J. Bradney, Frederick Law Olmstead, Calvert Vaux and, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright.
With all this manufacturing, energy, design, and business entrepreneurial spirit, it's not surprising that Buffalo also had a number of toy manufacturers. As might be expected for a community that in the 1870s had around 100 foundries and factories involved in iron and iron products, many of the toys were made of cast iron and other metals. There were at least a dozen, but few of them were devoted strictly to toys.
Buffalo Model Co. (later Buffalo Model and Supply Co.); 1926-1927 (date of Simplex)
General model makers, they made all kinds of models, blueprints, and parts. There is some question about whether they ever actually manufactured a large model locomotive called the Simplex Electric Locomotive and some cars to go with the engine. The best description is that from Louis H. Hertz's 1958 book, Collecting Model Trains, (Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp., NY. pages 318-319):
"...the 21/8" gauge 4-4-4-4 New York Central R. R. electric type locomotive and cars, made by the Buffalo Model Co., subsequently the Buffalo Model and Supply Co., in Buffalo NY, around 1926 and 1927. According to the literature, the locomotive, known as the "Simplex Electric Locomotive," was 193/4" long, powered by two motors, and a later circular (ad) features a working air whistle on the locomotive. The cars are specified as being 253/4" long, and fitted with four lights and real glass in the windows. Although some collectors have inclined to doubt that these models ever actually were manufactured, a photo of the train has been seen, and according to R. Donald Barr, the man behind the Buffalo Model Co., a few locomotives and cars actually were produced."
The company also offered blueprints so one could "build it at comparatively little cost by either making the parts yourself or getting some or all of them from us" the Buffalo Model Company (Popular Mechanics Magazine advertising, April 1926, page 168).
Buffalo Pitts Company; 1851-1897
Founded by John A. Pitts in 1851, the company underwent a number of name changes to become the Buffalo Pitts Co. in 1897. It produced steam-powered farm equipment (tractors and threshers) and road construction equipment (steam rollers) as well as truck bodies for truck manufacturers. In the early 1900s, in response to competition from gasoline-power, BP started making gasoline-powered tractors and other equipment. Their steam-powered engines were great, but their gasoline engines were not. Having financial difficulties, and lots of empty factory space, BP started developing an airplane. Charles M. Olmsted, a relative of one of the board members, designed and patented an improved propeller design that generated so much interest, that in 1910, the company produced flying toys, probably in hopes of generating interest in their "aeroplane." The toy was a success, but unfortunately, too little and too late to save the aviation plans of Buffalo Pitts. The toy was called the "HI-FLYER" a model helicoptere (sic) flying machine.
Buffalo Toy & Tool Works; 1924-1968
Manufacturers of inexpensive and lightweight, lithographed pressed steel mechanical toys based on the patents held by the founder and owner, Frank R. Labin. His spiral rod design was used in the design of various aeronautical and carousel type toys as well as automobiles.
Another patent was for a toy clothes presser (mangle). His patented method of making gear wheels was used in a mechanical dancer toy and a bumper car. The latter probably also used the steering design for his toy vehicle patent. Another patent for rotating dials was used for various games like the Arithmetic Game (educational) and the Jack Pot Game (a mini slot machine); both of these also used the spiral rod mechanism). Considering the number of different toys made by this company and the number of patents held by Labin, very little is actually known about the history of the Buffalo Toy & Tool Works.
Essex Hot Air Engines; Early 1900s
These were designed by Henry Essex and built by W. H. Smith and Co. in Buffalo. Henry Essex received his patent in 1902 and designed a number of hot-air engines. The toy version was called the "Buffalo" and sold for $4.50.
Pratt & Letchworth; 1836-1923
Founded by brothers Samuel Fletcher Pratt and Pascal Paoli Pratt, and William Pryor Letchworth as the Buffalo Malleable Iron Works. Originally producers of saddlery hardware, Pratt & Letchworth took over in 1860, and by 1872 were the largest manufacturers of saddlery hardware in the U. S. Toy production followed the hiring in 1889 of George S. Crosby (toy designer for Welker & Crosby Company, Brooklyn NY, 1880-1898). The following year, 1890, Pratt and Letchworth acquired the patent rights and inventory of Francis W. Carpenter (F. W. Carpenter Company, Harrison NY, 1894-1925).
Pratt & Letchworth marketed their toys as Buffalo Toys (Buffalo Indestructible Malleable Iron & Steel Toys), to differentiate them from the Buffalo Toy and Tool Works. Their trade mark was of a charging buffalo, not to be confused with the more sedate trade mark of Buffalo Toy and Tool Works or the Buffalo Head used by the Buffalo Pitts Company.
To add to the confusion, Pratt & Letchworth were proprietors of a number of related companies. Their 1892 toy catalogue (reprinted in 1970 by the ATCA) was titled "The Buffalo Indestructible Malleable Iron & Steel Toys Children's Delight" and listed the names of seven companies on the cover, none of them Pratt & Letchworth.
Shepard Hardware Co. (C. G. Shepard & Co.), Established in 1866 John D. Shepard, the father of Charles G. Shepard and Walter J. Shepard; produced hardware of every description. The company was turned over to the sons in 1878. READ PART II