Louis Marx & Co.
was founded in 1919 by Louis and David Marx in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Louis Marx was born in 1896 to Jacob and Clara Lou Marx in Brooklyn,
NY, and after graduating from high school he worked at Ferdinand
Strauss, a manufacturer of early mechanical toys. Marx specialized
in and became the dominant American manufacturer of tin toys
that reflected the quality and design inspiration of their European
counterparts. Tin plate toys were originally introduced in Germany
around 1874, using tin plate mostly used in the manufacture
of oil cans. In the years following World War I, Germany lost
its position as the leading producer of tin toys for children,
and they were overtaken by the Japanese who produced tin toys
for a global export market. With the founding of Louis Marx
& Company in 1919 to produce tin plate wind up toys, an
American company also sought to take advantage of this fundamental
change in the global marketplace. At first, Marx mostly marketed
toys from other factories overseas but they gradually built
up U. S. production capacity by renting factory space from Carter
Toys in Erie. Marx had the opportunity in 1922 to buy his old
employer Strauss, and along with the purchase Marx gained dies
to some famous Strauss toys such as the Zippo climbing monkey
and the Alabama minstrel dancer. In 1928, Marx produced the
first Yo-Yo and signed a distribution deal with Sears Roebuck
During the years of World
War II the Marx factories were recruited into the war effort
and became an important supplier to the U. S. Military. Following
the end of the European conflict in 1945, Louis Marx was named
an industrial adviser to Germany by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
After the war, Marx returned to toy manufacturing and achieved
a dominant position in the U. S. market during the 1950s and
1960s. Friction-based trains, fire engines, and cars were introduced
in 1948, and the Marx plant in Girard, PA first produced the
famous Marx trains while automobiles and other vehicles were
first produced at a new factory in Glendale, West Virginia.
In 1955, electric trains and automobiles were introduced, and
later that year Louis Marx appeared on the December, 1955 cover
of Time Magazine with the moniker "The Toy King!"
As an early adopter of overseas manufacturing, Marx had established
factories in 10 countries by 1964 and licensed others for export.
Nevertheless, the Japanese were flooding the market with low
cost, mass produced tin toys, and by the 1970s tin was being
replaced by plastic and newer metal alloys. Marx' first plastic
toys were very disappointing for their lack of durability, and
they soon switched to a stronger variation polyethylene.
Quaker Oats bought the
company in 1972 upon Louis Marx' retirement, and under corporate
ownership the culture of the company suffered and the new product
introductions began to fail after a near perfect string of successes.
In 1978, the original Louis Marx & Co. ceased production.
The box can make it easy to date Marx toys; for example, 5 digit
zip codes and 2 digit state abbreviations were first used in
1963, zip + 4 in 1983, and bar codes were introduced in 1975
and did not become prevalent until 5 years after that. Prior
to 1963, Marx toys either had postal zone numbers if produced
within the U.S. and Japanese production was marked "Made
in Nippon" from 1921 and earlier, "Made in Japan"
from 1922 until WWII, and "Made in Occupied Japan"
from 1945 - 1952.
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