|A Brief History
||On the 19th
January 1947 Lesney Products was founded by Leslie
Smith and Rodney Smith, the title of the
company being formed from their names. The two
were not related but were old school friends,
both attending the Central School, Enfield. They
lost touch during the Second World War but met
again soon after being demobbed. Leslie rejoined
the firm he had worked for before the war as a
buyer and Rodney returned to his job with a
diecasting company, D.C.M.T., in North London.
Rodney Smith (right)
and Lesley Smith in 1936. Used with kind
permission from MICA.
||They decided to
start a company together and to fulfil a dream
they had as boys. With a total of £600 they set
up business from an old, run down public house in
Edmonton, called The Rifleman. Rodney
bought a diecasting machine from his old employer
and they started making components for industry,
with Leslie running the office.
Jack Odell & Leslie Smith.
Used with kind permission from MICA.
starting work together, Rodney Smith introduced
John (Jack) Odell to Leslie. Jack was an
extremely talented engineer. Rodney had got to
know Jack whilst at D.C.M.T. They struck a deal
whereby Jack would run his own business from The
Rifleman and contribute towards the £2 a
week rent. He started to use his own machines to
make industrial castings and also moulds for
Lesney Products. He was quite successful and the
two Smiths asked him to join them as a full
partner. By 1948 Lesney consisted of eight
employees and three partners.
an aside, Jack Odell's radio call sign during the
war was to be used later as the name of his
successful company 'Lledo'!)
It soon became clear that
the industrial business was seasonal with work
drying up at the end of each year. Therefore
something was required to bring in business
during these lean periods. Late 1947 a toy
manufacturer placed an order for a component of a
toy gun. This helped them over the period and
sowed the seed for the later direction of the
company. Anticipating the next year's lean period
they made diecast models, similar to Dinky toys
but at a third of the price.
In 1951 Rodney
Smith left Lesney Products as he could not see
that there was any future with the company!
The Royal State Coach
skills of Jack Odell were amply demonstrated by
the production of an exquisite model of the Royal
State Coach produced for the coronation of 1953.
A miniature version was also produced with over
one million being sold. Soon after this success
came the idea for more tiny toys housed in
replica matchboxes. Jack Odell's daughter had
just started school. The school only allowed her
to take into school a toy that could be contained
within a matchbox. Most children took insects and
other horrible things. Jack, therefore made her a
miniature road roller out of brass. All her
school friends also wanted one so Jack made a
mould and cast a few. Thus the
"Matchbox" miniature 1-75 range was
Yesteryears were introduced in 1956 and provided
Odell with a new engineering challenge. The first
three Yesteryears were shown at the 1956 Toy
Trade Fair, Harrogate. Later it was decided to
limit the range to 16 models, replacing models in
order to introduce new ones. The models were
packaged in boxes similar to those used for the
"Matchbox" 1-75 series.
trade mark was owned jointly by Lesney Products
and their distributor J. Kohnstam & Co. Ltd.
In 1959 Lesney paid Kohnstam £80,000 in order to
solely own the name and in 1960 the company went
public. Coinciding with the floatation of the
company the Y15 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was
produced. This was the model to really launch the
Yesteryear range to the public's attention. This
was an exquisitely modelled car which was
advertised in 'Veteran and Vintage Magazine', a
publication for old car enthusiasts.
Model of Leslie
Smith produced for
MICA in 1990
1966 Lesney Products were awarded their first
Queen's award for industry and were performing
extremely well. However, by 1971 the company was
suffering from the challenge of Hot Wheels to its
1-75 miniature range. It recovered well but in
1973 had to stop production in the first quarter
of 1973 because of a national power strike. This
is where I will stop the story as this period
forced Lesney to rationalise its products and to
cut costs - this was the end of the 'Golden Era'
of Yesteryear production.
The next page describes the evolution of yesteryear models.