Mantua (pronounced Man-chew-ah) Metal Products was a metalworks business
founded in 1926 by John Tyler and family. John Tyler had been interested in
model railroading since his boyhood in England where the hobby developed much earlier than in the US. John
was an electrician by trade and emigrated to the US from England in 1925.
Tyler and his friend James P. Thomas formed a partnership with the purpose of
manufacturing wood and
metal sailboats in their Mantua, New Jersey shop. In 1927 the partners made a 3-foot model of a cabin cruiser
they owned. The unique aspect of this model was the the small electric motor that powered the boat. Fellow
boat owners admired the electrically powered model and encouraged them to build more boats to sell.
With all this encouragement, the partners decided to produce the battery-powered boat in quantity. The model
boat proved to be popular but as the orders for the boats increased, finding enough good quality motors
became a big problem. To solve this problem the partners decided to design their own motor. The result was
a dandy - being both rugged and inexpensive to build.
The model boat and the new motor were the beginning of Triple-T Electrical Toys
manufactured by the Mantua
Toy Co. The "Triple-T" stood for Thomas, Tyler, and Tyler. The second Tyler was John Tyler's wife (James
Thomas' sister) who was also active in the business. Mantua's first project was to produce Triple-T Electrical
Toys of Distinction. The Woodbury Heights, New Jersey Mantua factory began
making items for the first time in 1933. With the new 6-volt motor, the Triple-T line was expanded to
include accessory items youngsters could drive with the motors. These Items included a miniature drill press,
grinding wheel, and trip hammer. The partners continued to work at improving the motor. The result of this was
the Number 100 motor, offered either open or enclosed. The motor was quite large, measuring 2 3/4 x 2 1/2 x 1 3/4
Mantua's motor development soon led to a motor small enough for use in 'OO'
scale locomotives. John was
aware of the growing interest in 'OO' and HO scales in England and the US so he placed a small ad for his motor,
dubbed the "Midget Motor," in the March 1930 issue of The Modelmaker magazine. The number of orders received
was a pleasant surprise so they continued to run the ad. The Midget motor measured only 1 1/2 x 1 1/4 x 1 5/16
inches. Soon a second small motor was added to the line - The Midget Senior. It was more powerful and only 1/4
inch longer. In a June 1931 article on building an 'OO' scale locomotive appeared in The Modelmaker magazine.
In the article, F. D. Grimke wrote, "The only motor worth considering is the one manufactured by Mantua Toy Co.
Either the Midget or Midget Senior can be used."
In 1932, a friend from England showed John Tyler a British-made HO locomotive.
He informed John that British model railroaders were going crazy over these small-scale model trains made
by the likes of Bassett-Lowke. However, there was a problem. The
current motors were only powerful enough to haul short trains. This must have started John thinking as he
immediately began experimenting with a motor for HO scale engines. It would be some time before an actual product
Sales of Midget motors to the 'OO' scale model railroad market continued to grow
and Tyler and Thomas
directed more effort towards products for this market. In 1933, Increased business prompted a move from
the town of Mantua to a new, small shop the partners built in Woodbury Heights. By 1935, when Mantua's
first ad appeared in Model Railroader, they had an additional new line of motors for 'O', and larger scale
locomotives called "Right of Way." The July 1935 ad was directed at model supply houses. Mantua stated they
had a complete machine shop and were interested in manufacturing model railroad parts in all scales. They also
announced that a permanent magnet DC motor for HO scale would be ready in the fall. Up to this time, all
of Mantua's motors were the universal type with a field winding that could be operated from either AC or DC.
The announcement proved to be a little optimistic. It was not until spring of 1936 that the new DC motor was
For most of 1937 it looked like the folks at Mantua had finally run out of steam.
Ads for their mechanisms
indicated they planned to offer a complete locomotive later on but no product was introduced. Finally, in
December 1937, a full page ad appeared in Model Railroader announcing their new Reading Consolidation built
for two or three rail operation. This was Mantua's first full-page ad. The Consolidation was offered
ready-to-run for $49.50 or in kit form for $28.50. To encourage beginners, the company announced a complete
ready-to-run freight train consisting of the Consolidation, two gondolas, and a caboose. A track kit with
twenty-one feet of track was included. The special Christmas price was $59.50. The HO scale model
trains were made of die-cast metal, and became very popular. Eventually Mantua became the leading hobbyist brand
in that gauge. The prices for Mantua's cars and locomotives must have seemed high to the average working man as
the average weekly pay for a railroader in 1937 was $34.15.
In 1938 Mantua introduced a much more affordable kit for a Reading Camelback
switcher - only $15. Soon
the Reading Atlantic was added. It was priced at $37.50 ready-to-run or $25 for the kit. Also introduced
in 1938 was Mantua's patented HO "Ready-Laid Track," available in straight and flexible 18 inch sections.
By the end of 1938, the line included locomotives, cars, couplers, and track - everything needed to get started
in HO scale. The word "Toy" was dropped from the company name and it became Mantua Metal Products Co.
During the war years many companies discontinued their normal products to make
war materials. Mantua was
one of these companies. From 1942 through 1945, production of Mantua model railroad products was suspended.
Mantua's manufacturing facility was used to make precision measuring and mapping equipment for the war effort.
Mantua's machines were operated twenty-four hours a day by three shifts of workers to turn out stainless steel
scale map-reading rules and protractors for the Army and Navy and beam compasses for the Army Air Corps.
Although production of model railroad products was suspended, Mantua continued to stay in touch with the
public by running ads in Model Railroader. In 1945, Mantua received the Army-Navy "E" award for its war
production efforts. Something they were quite proud of.
After the War, Mantua began the task of converting their plant back to producing
model railroad products.
This was not an easy task but by mid-1946 Mantua announced that it was back in production. An all-metal
gondola was the first new model of the post-war era. Mantua issued a catalog in 1947, the first since 1942.
The entire line was back with some additions and changes. The biggest change was a new motor voltage. 12 Volts
DC had become the standard voltage instead of 6 volts. In an ironic twist, the 12V motors were the only part
of the line not made by Mantua. The company that got its start making motors was now buying them from
Pittman. Later Mantua went back to making its own motors.
Other changes included converting many of the previous brass parts over to zinc
alloy die cast. The new
locomotive kits - 8-Ball Mogul and Belle of the Eighties frame, tender, and cab roof were made of die cast
while the boiler was still brass. Other locomotives in the line, such as the new Pacific kit, were designed
to be all die cast. The time Immediately after the war was a time of rebuilding as Mantua and other model
railroad companies struggled to get back into production and overcome critical materials shortages that
kept them form fulfilling a growing demand. However, once the production problems and material shortages
were overcome, the post war boom accelerated model railroad business like never before. Between 1945 and 1950,
the circulation of Model Railroader grew from 20,000 in 1945 to over 100,000. The majority of model railroad
hobbyists (69%) were working in HO scale by 1950. In a 1953 Popular Science article on model railroad
manufacturers, the author reported that Mantua had 50 employees and sales of over $1 million annually.
In 1952 sales of the little 0-4-0T "Busy Bee" switcher kits, introduced in 1949, exceeded 20,000. It was
priced at $19.95. In 1949 Mantua was placing full page ads on the back cover of every issue of Model
Railroader magazine. In 1947 the partnership of Thomas and Tyler was dissolved, Tyler took control of Mantua
while Thomas pursued other business interests. In the 1950's Thomas created
Thomas Industries, and put out a line of 'O' gauge tinplate trains.
One confusing aspect of the Tyco story for many regards Mantua and its relationship to Tyco.
The name Tyco appears for the first time in 1952. The Tyler Manufacturing Company or
Tyco was created at Mantua and began selling a product line under that brand that is often known to collectors
as "the blue-box era". This moniker was created because Tyco offered kit versions and later ready-to-run(RTR)
versions of various steam and early diesel era model trains in a light-blue packaging. The growth in
ready-to-run HO-scale train sets was the reason behind the creation of the TYCO nameplate in 1957. Mantua is
considered the pioneer of the "ready-to-run" HO-scale model railroad kits under the Tyco
brand. Many Tyco and Mantua die-cast products, such as steam engines, are collector's items today.
In 1959 the A.C. Gilbert Company, makers of the famous American Flyer
'S' gauge trains, offered a very desirable 'Frontiersman set' in both 'S' gauge and as part of their HO line.
The HO set is actually a Tyco/Mantua 'General Set' that was modified and marketed by Gilbert in celebration
of their fiftieth year of being in the toy business. This HO set is considered to be one of the most desireable
sets in the complete Gilbert/American Flyer 25 year HO series.
In the 1960's, Tyco changed its focus from train kits to ready-to-run trains
sold in hobby shops and also
added HO-scale electric racing, or "slot car" sets (in 1963). During this period, the HO-scale train line
saw growth and expansion. The '60's product line is generally dubbed "the red-box era." Items from this
time period are found in red Tyco boxes. The split between Mantua and Tyco has its beginnings in 1967.
Norman Tyler, son of founder John Tyler, became president of Mantua in 1967.
By the 1970's, Tyco shifted sales and marketing to a consumer-oriented, mass marketing focus.
Eventually the name changed to Tyco Industries, under which name the company was sold in 1970 to
Consolidated Foods during an era of corporate conglomerates. The sale endrd forty-five years of continuous
ownership by the Tyler family. John Tyler died in November, 1972. After the creation of Tyco Industries,
the Mantua brand name was retired. Although the Mantua name was no longer used, many locomotive kits were still
sold but under the Tyco name. As a division of what became Sara Lee, Tyco continued to grow. Norman Tyler
oversaw the incorporation of the company under the new name Tyco Industries. This Consolidated Foods
Era is referred to as the "brown-box" period for collectors. Prior to 1970, Tyco offered models that
reflected fairly accurate prototypes. After 1970, under Consolidated Foods leadership, Tyco's offerings
wander into a fantasy world of unprototypical models. It is this interesting period that provides
modelers and collectors with such items as a Popsicle and StarKist Tuna box cars and various Bicentennial
locomotives. Looked down upon by serious hobbyists, these items none the less have found favor among those
who enjoyed them as kids and now enjoy collecting them as adults. After reaching its zenith in 1973, the work
force at Woodbury Heights dwindled as Consolidated Foods moved more and more production to the Far East.
By the 1980's, Tyco dominated the market in electric slot car racing, as well
as the radio control category.
In the mid 1980's, Tyco products no longer carried the Consolidated Foods ownership markings and Tyco
Industries emerged. Tyco's train line was becoming even more outlandish with items like "The A-Team"
and "Rambo" train sets. The line in general also was shrinking in total variety. The company added
the "US-1 Trucking" slot trucks to its line in 1981. Diversification continued with the 1989 purchase of
the View-Master/Ideal Group, which brought to the company the View-MasterŽ, Magna DoodleŽ and the Ideal
Nursery line of dolls. The company also began offering telephones; remote-control vehicles; and other
items beyond the model train line.
In the 1990's, the company branched out with other toys such as airplanes,
super Blocks, which were
clones of Lego brand building elements (after the basic patent ran out in 1983), and Sesame Street items.
Tyco purchased Matchbox, a maker of model cars, in 1993. In 1995, Tyco Preschool was named the primary
toy licensee for the Children's Television Workshop. A year later Tyco Preschool launched an extensive
new line based on the popular children's program, Sesame Street. When Tyco was purchased by Mattel on
March 27, 1997, it was the third largest toy company in the United States. The brand survives as the
Mattel Tyco R/C division.
The Tyco model railroad business was purchased back by the Tyler family on
July 1, 1977. Mantua Metal
Products was reborn as Mantua Industries. The new group of HO-scale trains made consisted largely of the
items found during Tyco's Red Box Era and before. Nearly all steam engines and a few of the diesel
locomotives, plus an assortment of rolling stock were included in this new Mantua product line.
The initial diesels included the F-unit, correctly labeled as F-7, the GP-20 and a Plymouth Yard Diesel.
The late '70's Mantua diesels differ from their Tyco counterparts in that the Mantua locos featured
the company's power truck motor and not Tyco's PowerTorque motor. Employment went from a skeleton crew in
1977 to 80 employees in 1984.
Mantua continued to offer an expanding line of model trains in the 1980's and '90's.
Eric Tyler, grandson
of Norman Tyler, became vice-president of Mantua and oversaw the introduction of a line of ready-to-run train
sets in 1990. Mantua added an N-scale Superbowl Express train set in 1993. The Mantua Collectibles line of
steam engines began appearing in the mid 1990's. During this period the F-7 and GP-20 diesels saw a number
of improvements. A brass flywheel motor and full 8-wheel drive with a die-cast metal chassis greatly improved
the performance of the Mantua diesels during the 1990's. Also during the '80s and '90s, Mantua picked up many
former pieces of rolling stock that were once part of the Lindbergh line of HO-scale trains. The 43' Gondola
and 36' center cupola New England-style Caboose are both examples of cars added to the Mantua line from the
former Lindbergh offerings.
Tyco exited the model railroad business after the 1993 catalog. Many of the Tyco
model train products were
then produced by Mantua and by International Hobby Corporation (IHC). 2001 marked Mantua's 75th anniversary.
Sadly it was to be their last. Citing "Market Conditions" as the reason, Mantua announced that as of October
31st 2001, Mantua ceased production of its model railroad lines, and sold the model railroad business to the
Model Power company, which continues to sell a few items such as steam engines as its Mantua Classics brand.
Link to Tyco Trains Resource Web Site.