The Story of Strombecker would have to be one of the more interesting stories.
The company began life in 1876 as a publishing organisation distributing a paper called The National Laundry Journal. Then in 1893, Samuel Dowst (a member of the Dowst Brothers Company) visited the Chicago ‘World Fair’ in that year. While on his trip, he recognised that the newly designed Mergenthaler linotype machine (seen at the fair) could do other things than cast type from molten lead into molds. Seeing an opportunity Dowst Brothers first forte into the manufacturing realm was in the form of a collar button and then other laundry accessories.
Dowst Brothers later went into the manufacturing of miniatures of items used in the laundry trade for promotional purposes. As these became more popular, other industries such as shoe polishing and cooking grease manufactures started to place orders for miniature promotional items too. Within in a short time Dowst Brothers had enough of a range of miniatures to start manufacturing them for use in the candy industry as prizes in snacks such as Cracker Jacks. This is where the connection with toy manufacturing began.
In 1926, Dowst merged with another company (Shure Brothers) who manufactured similar items to become a firm known as Dowst Manufacturing Company and built a large manufacturing plant in Chicago. At this point, it started to manufacture die-cast models of 1:1 cars that were produced at the time and other toys such as doll furniture, train sets and airplanes under the banner Tootsietoy.
Shure Brothers also had origins in a range of miniature cars in the form of charms, pins, cuff links and the like, introduced circa 1901 by the Chicago based Cosmo Company owned by the Shure Bros. Once the merge took place, the name however, remained Dowst Manufacturing Co. The first actual model car from the newly merged company was a closed limousine which was followed by a 1915 Ford Model T open tourer.
The new company continued to prosper and eventually outgrowing their plant and in 1954, they moved to a more modern larger facility. In 1961, Dowst Manufacturing entered the rapidly growing hobby market by acquiring the hobby division of Strombeck-Becker Manufacturing Company. Continuing its expansion Dowst Manufacturing also then bought Model Road and Raceways and to cash in on the trend hired designers and retooled the factory facilities to produce car and track sets.
Sales of its new product which were marketed under the name Strombecker proved very popular and were producing half a million sets a year by 1963 making the company one of the leaders in slotcars and comprising the firms main source of Revenue. Dowst Manufacturing finally emerged in 1964 as Strombecker Corporation, and were also manufacturing items under the Tootsietoy, Strombecker and Model Road & Raceway brands. In 1966 Strombecker Corporation added a second manufacturing plant to have a combined manufacturing space of 185,000 square feet.
For several years the company rode high on the slotcar fad, but then sales plunged in the latter half of the decade. When the firm's largest customer Sears, Roebuck & Co., cancelled orders and tried to return all its inventory, Strombecker faced financial ruin. The firm, which had recorded profits of $3 million at the peak of the boom, suddenly found itself facing annual losses of more than $6 million.
As a consequence, Myron, Alan, and Richard Shure were forced to personally guarantee the company's loans and to avoid bankruptcy they decided to return to the more traditional toys with which the firm had earlier found success. At this time Alan Shure left to run a business that made small electric motors, leaving Myron and Richard to run the company.
Strombecker bounced back with the introduction of the ‘Jam-Pac’, a set of ten die-cast cars that sold for a dollar. Placed by the counter at supermarkets throughout the country, it became ‘the world's best shutter-upper’, according to Myron Shure's son Daniel. As parents in the checkout line could buy it for a child in order to keep them quiet. The Jam-Pac sold ten million sets in its first year, and continued to do well thereafter. During the same period, Strombecker acquired exclusive rights to manufacture Kewpie Dolls and by the mid-1970s Strombecker's annual sales were a relatively modest $6 million.
The acquisition of Chem-Toy adds the popular Mr. Bubbles line in 1979 and in the 80s sees the firm moved most of its toy car manufacturing to China.
When Richard Shure died in 1988, Myron Shure began seeking a partner to help buy out his and Alan's shares. Although Myron's three daughters were not interested, his youngest son Daniel was, and the latter moved back to Chicago from Hong Kong to become the firm's president. This period also saw the company redesign its packaging, putting the Tootsietoy brand on its entire line of more than 100 products. Under Daniel Shure, who had earned his M.B.A. at Cornell, Strombecker began a round of strategic acquisitions and in 1989 the firm purchases Sandberg Manufacturing, maker of Sesame Street wooden toys.
In 1994, major chains remove toy guns from shelves after news reports regarding children who had been shot by police while brandishing toy guns led several retail chains, including Toys 'R' Us and Kay-Bee, to pull authentic-looking toy weapons from their shelves. Strombecker had control of 60 percent of U.S. sales in this category and 30 percent of the firm's revenues were derived from it. Although deals were quickly made to offset the cutbacks by boosting orders of the firm's other products and some guns were redesigned to make them less realistic, the company announced that it would have to lay off 20 workers, however, they were able to keep most of its U.S. workforce of 500 on the job. This was yet another setback for Strombecker however proving their resiliency the company rebounds a few years later and posts record sales of $50 million in 1966.
In December of 2002 Board Chairman Myron Shure dies. That year also saw Strombecker make two acquisitions and form a joint venture with Daisy Manufacturing Co. to license and distribute Daisy's line of toy guns. The firm also introduced its first toys aimed solely at girls, which included tea sets and play cosmetics.
In its 140 years, Strombecker Corporation has found its niche as a leading maker of basic toys. It is the leading maker of bubble blowing toys and cap guns in the world, controlling about half of each market, and also makes other basic toys like die-cast metal cars, wood blocks, and dish sets. The company's best-known brands are Tootsietoy, Mr. Bubbles, Hearts 'n Home, Hard Body Die-Cast and it also makes items using characters or designs licensed from Disney, Looney Tunes, Pfaltzgraff, General Motors, and Ford, among others. Strombecker is still owned by the Shure family, which has run the company for four generations.