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The Lincoln Toy Factory

Collecting has been documented as far back in history as ancient Egypt. Whether it be fine art, beanie babies or sports cards, collecting has moved from being a small time personal obsession to a billion dollar industry-thanks to the internet.lincolntruck.jpg
One passion that has the potential to tell  a lot about ourselves is the collecting of toys. It is within the annals of toy collecting history that we find the story of Walkerville's own, "Lincoln Specialties", or as it was more commonly known, "Lincoln Toys".

This local company's products, almost fifty years after it's demise, have become sought after by toy enthusiasts all over the world. In fact, one collector notes the average "Lincoln" toy can fetch $100 to $600,  depending on its condition. Before you run off to check the old toy box in the attic, read on to discover a fascinating history of a home grown business made good.

Founded by father and son team, Haven and Fredrick Kimmerly (who at the time resided at 2448 Gladstone and 1009 Windermere respectively), the business made its first appearance in the Windsor city directory in 1946.

In 1941, the Kimmerly's and close family friends, the Lynn's, amicably split their small metal stamping business, LK Metals, into two companies. The Kimmerly's opened "Kay Manufacturing" at Lincoln & Erie, while the Lynn's carried on as LK Metals. The two companies remained connected, with Kay Manufacturing making components for some of LK Metal's products, such as gas heaters, in addition to their own product line which consisted (in part) of fireplace covers and stove pipes.

There is a saying that when paraphrased, states that: "There is nothing better for the economy than a good war." With the Second World War raging in Europe, the Canadian economy was slowly rising out of the last grips of the Great Depression.

Business was good for Kay Manufacturing; they received an official government contract to build ammunition boxes and fenders for the Canadian Army. The Kimmerly's made a decision to change the business name to "Windsor Steel"; they also diversified the range of their manufactured products. These new products included bicycle carriers and kickstands as well as the now ultra-collectible steel "Coca-Cola" licensed coolers and automobile visors.

By 1945, the wartime economy had slowed down and Windsor Steel required new products to replace the loss of the government contract. Although their flourishing automobile products division, which included gas tanks and mufflers was keeping the business steady, the Kimmerly's required something that would put the business "over the top".

That same year it was suggested that the company focus its direction on the large post-war toy market. So, it came to be that Haven and Fredrick Kimmerly set up "Lincoln Specialties" in 1946 in order to market their new "Windsor Steel"-made commodity. The first offices and showroom were located in the original Kay Manufacturing building back at Lincoln and Erie and John Milner was hired as company president.

Ironically, the very first "Lincoln" toy was actually a small wooden Jeep. This mini Jeep was comprised of two halves connected by a single joint. The joint allowed the toy to make smoother turns and handle more wear and tear on the uneven surfaces on which so many children like to play. This was also the only wooden toy ever marketed by Lincoln Specialties.

Some of the first metal toys made by Windsor Steel for Lincoln were the "817 dump truck" and the "No.54 Repeater Canon" which actually fired small wooden cannon balls with the aid of  a spring loaded crank mechanism. The "Repeater" was also the first "Lincoln" to appear in a major store catalogue, making its debut in the 1946-47 Eaton's Fall & Winter.

After such a short time in operation, Lincoln Specialties, which also handled the marketing of Windsor Steel's other products, began to focus energy on their ever widening selection of toys.

By 1953 the selection had grown to over 24 different styles of trucks in three different sizes and two different cab designs. This was largely possible due to their close relationship with Harry Ellwood, a Windsor toy maker who had relocated to Tilbury. Mr. Ellwood's company, "Ellwood Toys" manufactured all "cab over" style trucks marketed by Lincoln Specialties and would eventually purchase the bulk of Lincoln's dies upon their closure.

Also included in Lincoln's toy roster were cranes, power shovels, several variations of the Massey-Harris 44 tractor and other various farm implements such as combine harvesters. One of Lincoln's most interesting products however, was a toy airplane. Considered a rarity in its time and even more so today, the plane featured the colours and logos of the now defunct Trans-Canada Airways.

With so many toys being manufactured, the facilities at 1701 Shepherd could not adequately meet the storage needs of Windsor Steel. It was about this time that the company designed its own warehouse and showroom at 2892 Walker Rd. Built by Mark Glos, father of Windsor architect Randy Glos, the building served as the home of Windsor Steel until the company's eventual closure.

Lincoln Specialties outgrew their Erie Street location within three years and relocated to 1200 London (now University) Street, in the old S.W. & A. streetcar barns. Both companies also maintained other warehouses across the city of Windsor.

coaltruck.jpgLocations changed frequently for the Kimmerly families as well, with Haven, his wife Minerva and their younger children living at 1175 Kildare and 1192 Devonshire, and Fredrick, his wife Muriel and their children residing at two locations on Willistead Cr. and at one point in Cottam.

Unfortunately, despite their succeses, both companies fell victim to the unstoppable juggernaut of time. Increased foreign competition and unsuccessful bids by Windsor Steel to win back automotive contracts abandoned during the toy boom forced Lincoln Specialties out of business. It made its final appearance in the Windsor City Directory in 1958. Windsor Steel continued to operate in a limited capacity but closed only a year later, dissolving officially in 1959.

After Windsor Steel's closure, Haven's son, Edward T. Kimmerly maintained the family's presence at Lincoln and Erie by continuing the "Lincoln Casket Company", a business founded by Fredrick prior to the demise of Windsor Steel. Eventually the business relocated to Sydney Street before being sold to a larger casket company.

Meanwhile, Haven's other child William (Bill) Kimmerly, with help from his father, began Dayton Manufacturing on Crawford Avenue. Dayton  also relocated to Sydney Street, less than a block away from where brother Edward's operations were conducted. They have remained there ever since and continue to manufacture custom bathroom vanities for major retailers like Sears & Roebuck Canada.

Fredrick A. Kimmerly moved his family to the United States and eventually returned to Canada where he launched Standard Printing, located on University Avenue West where Ho & Wong's Chinese restaurant now stands. The family-run business eventually returned to Walkerville, moving into the former Studebaker offices at 530 Walker Road, and relocating to 3500 Ontario in 1993 where they continue to serve the public's printing needs, under the stewardship of Fredrick's eldest son Paul, his wife Lori and their two children.

Through their successes and failures, the popularity of the Kimmerley's metal toys  remains highly appreciated by collectors and offers us a whimsical glimpse back in time.

You may leave for the attic now- happy hunting!

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