Between the Bookends

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Ertl’s first toy was the Allis-Chalmers WC. More recent offerings include models like the Case IH MX 285

Ertl toy tractor history

If you spent countless hours farming carpet as
a child, constantly wearing the knees out of your pants, Ertl
Toy Tractors
by Patrick Ertel and Catherine Lee Phillips
belongs on your bookshelf. Tracing the Ertl company’s history and
products over the last six decades, Ertl Toy Tractors is
an enjoyable and informative look at one of the best-known toy
tractor manufacturers in the U.S.

It all begins with an introduction to Fred Ertl Sr., and how he
and his family emigrated to the U.S. from Germany. A journeyman
gray-iron molder by trade, Ertl was laid off due to a strike in
1945, just after World War II. Determined to provide for his
family, he began casting scale-model tractors in his basement in
hopes of selling them to toy stores and five-and-dimes.
Fortunately, some of his little red Allis-Chalmers WCs sold, and
slowly but surely, The Ertl Company got off the ground.

Although the company’s first toy tractor was an Allis-Chalmers,
Ertl really made a name for itself by producing John Deere models.
Importantly, these were factory-endorsed and were sold exclusively
in John Deere dealerships. With the backing of a large company such
as Deere, Ertl’s plan to offer exclusive toy tractors really took

The Dyersville, Iowa-based company kept growing, rolling with
the changing times. Manufacturing methods continued to improve
almost on a yearly basis, and Ertl toys continually evolved,
becoming more and more detailed. The company changed hands a few
times in its history, and experienced many of the hard times the
OEM tractor manufacturers faced in the early 1980s.

However, the early 1980s also happened to be a milestone in toy
tractor collecting: Baby Boomers suddenly wanted to “relive” their
childhoods by collecting some of the toys they played with in their
younger days. Ertl saw its fortunes flourish because of this new
collecting craze – and it hasn’t let up since. In 1998, Ertl bought
out Britains, a European toy tractor manufacturer. That move
effectively made Ertl the largest toy manufacturer in the world. A
year later, Ertl was sold to Racing Champions, manufacturer of
scale racing cars, forming Racing Champions Ertl Corp. The company
continues to push forward, and Ertl will celebrate its 60th
anniversary in 2005.

Well-written and presented in a concise chronological manner,
Ertl Toy Tractors contains high-quality photos on nearly
every one of its 125 pages. Whether you are simply interested in
Ertl toy tractors or are a die-hard collector, put this book on
your list.

– Ertl Toy Tractors, by Patrick Ertel and Catherine Lee
Phillips, Motorbooks International, 2004, ISBN 0-7603-2019-5, 127
pages, hardback. Available through Farm Collector Books. For
ordering information, see pages 30-31 of this issue

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment