WEEDEN TOY FACTORY KNOWN TO EVERY BOY

Content Tools

[100 styles of steam engines offered]

PREFACE The following article was sent to us by Russell W. Templeton, 308 Prospect Street, Warren, Pennsylvania 16365. He has obtained permission from The Standard Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts for The Iron-Men Album Magazine to use this article. It was in the October 22, 1972 issue. We thank both Russell and The Standard Times.

From Mr. Templeton's letter, I quote: 'From time to time I have read in your fine magazine, interest in the Weeden Manufacturing Company, probably one of the most famous companies for producing toy model steam engines in the country, and through their marketing the toy steam engine, introduced steam power to millions of boys in years past.

As a buff of toy steam engines, and from interest that I have seen in the history of this company, I was able, through a friend of mine in New Bedford, Massachusetts to obtain this article about the company, which I am sure will be of interest to many buffs.'

The building at the southeast corner of Elm and Bethel Streets- 24 Elm Street., to be exact was one which just about every boy in New Bedford had an interest. That was where the Weeden Manufacturing Co. made the famous Weeded toy steam engines that were invented by William N. Weeden.

Born in New Bedford in 1839, Mr. Weeden was a watchmaker, having learned the trade as an apprentice to James T. Almy, watchmaker, engraver and jeweler, whose shop was on the east side of Purchase Street, just north of what is now the Bristol Building, at the northeast corner of Union Street.

Becoming proficient as a watchmaker, Mr. Weeden went to Boston, where he opened his own small watch repairing shop. He also made stencils and dies, and invented a pencil sharpener. It was while he was developing the pencil sharpener, preparatory to putting it on the market, that he became acquainted with a Colonel Merritt, who afterward was connected with the company that made the Waterbury watch. Eventually, Mr. Weeden was engaged as superintendent of the watch factory.

It was while he was serving in that capacity that Mr. Weeden met a Mr. Upham, who was affiliated with the Youth's Companion, which used an attractive premium list to get boys interested in selling subscriptions to the magazine. Mr. Upham was searching for a toy steam engine that would really work. Those that he had found abroad were largely imperfect, and he would not feature in his premium list something that wasn't good.

Mr. Weeden was an artist and somewhat of a mechanical genius - at Mr. Upham's request, he undertook the job of designing and making a toy steam engine that would be practical, would really work, and that would not cost too much. Mr. Upham was so pleased by the working model Weeden sent him that he immediately ordered 10,000 engines just like it, to be delivered at a price of one dollar each. This $10,000 order served as the basis for the establishment of the Weeden Manufacturing Co. in 1877.

That original upright style was ever the most popular: It had an oscillating cylinder, a metal balance wheel, a safety valve, a whistle and two tiny screw valves. It exhausted through the smoke stack and was entirely made of metal, the boiler being provided with a small spirit lamp to heat the water. Only improvement since the original was the addition of a small glass water gauge.

It was only natural that the Weeden company should develop other models, including those with stationary valves and oscillating cylinders; those with stationary cylinders and rocking or sliding valves; some of the upright type, some horizontal; some with walking beams, such as were seen in steamboats of that day, while some had double balance wheels and others single flywheels.

In some types, the engine was attached to the boiler while in others it was on a separate base, connected with the boiler by tiny steam pipes. There were those with revolving governors; some had a secondary sheet metal sheathing to keep the heat from radiating too rapidly; and there were various sizes of each type.

By 1922, the Weeden company made more than 100 different styles of the toy steam engines, some with a tiny pump or pile driver attached. It also made such accessories as shafting, toy machine shops, tiny saw tables, stamping presses, grind stones to complete the engines. The company even did a brisk business in replacement parts for all its products a service that made it not only unique, but much preferred over the foreign competitors. The big 'plus' was the guarantee of the company for every tiny part of any of its products.

The toy engines retailed at prices from 75 cents to as much as $12 each, depending of the type chosen. Each engine was capable of being taken completely apart and re-assembled, the original upright sort with 62 parts being still the simplest the company produced.

Incorporation papers of 1877 gave the company the right to make all kinds of toys and novelties. Poor business conditions in the beginning two years necessitated reorganization in 1889.  New Bedford men backing Mr. Weeden, who had every faith in him, were the incorporators: J. Arthur Beauvals, George S. Homer, Frederick A. Homer and Edward S. Brown.

The entire line of electrical toys was discontinued during the World War I years, and in 1922 only the toy steam engines were produced. Past years had seen a considerable output of mechanical banks and small pocket music boxes the size of a pocket watch, that were wound up to play a complete tune, but these, too were discontinued.