VINTAGE KITS ANNEX 5
Note: Part One covers the history of the Strombeck-Becker Manufacturing Co. through World War II. Postwar history, Part Two, may be opened by Clicking Here. This link is repeated at the bottom of the page and in the left hand column.
I was introduced to modeling through StromBecKer kits in the 1930s, just as thousands of depression era youths tasted the "Golden Age of Aviation" by building and flying inexpensive model airplane kits such as the dime-scales, constructing solid models from kits, joining in competition with rubber-powered flyers such as the Jimmie Allens and, if lucky enough to find a few odd jobs, becoming part of the "gassie" scene. Now, as we browse those old, nicely pre-carved western pine model kits by StromBecKer, with their smoothly shaped parts, sandpaper, Casco glue and wood filler, it's enjoyable to handle the parts and imagine how it was building it the instant Dad brought it home from the dime-store. But the story behind those models and their genesis will add to the nostalgic value that we perceive - that is the purpose of this article.
This StromBecKer story relies on material from many sources; a number of individual historians and collectors, the kits, magazine articles, trade journals, newspapers, model organizations, advertisements, brochures, catalogs, and sources that will probably surprise you as you read this. Oddly, I have not run across any single document that has outlined all of the varied aspects of this closely-held company. Certainly this website is not an attempt at a definitive history, but at the same time, I can't be accused of brevity as there is much to say and show about this remarkable organization which grew out of the Swedish immigrant community of Moline, Illinois.
With a beginning in 1911, the history of Strombeck-Becker and its founders, J.F. Strombeck and R.D. Becker, is entwined with wood products, toys, Christian salvation , corporate changes, family, and finally, plastics and divestment of the toy line to a company that actually has a longer history than Strombeck-Becker. All that when you remove the lid of that treasured StromBecKer kit!
I am particularly indebted to Rodney D. "Bud" Becker son of founder R.D. Becker, for his kind permission to use a document written by his father which outlines the corporate history of the company. In addition to being a witness to his father's involvement with Strombeck-Becker, Bud Becker also started working for the company on July 20, 1948 and continued to work there every summer and Christmas vacation until 1953. R.D. Becker's history document covers more corporate records in detail than is essential to the telling of this story; however, much of the history is germane to the modeling emphasis of this article and will be quoted where relevant. Company employees, time-lines, dates of significant events, corporate decisions, products, marketing, and problems are all items of great interest to anyone following this well known name in the model kit and toy business. In addition, the inclusion of R.D. Becker's history allows us to view the sequence of events with first-hand accuracy assurance.
By the 1950s, over a million Swedes had emigrated to the United States including my mother who landed in Minnesota at an early age with her parents. Illinois was a popular Swedish settlement area. The first Swedes came to Moline, Illinois in 1847 when Moline was barely a river-side hamlet. In the following year, John Deere, along with his business partners, began to make plows in Moline. The plow factory, along with other wood products and machinery factories, attracted Swedish immigrants to these new jobs. Other recognizable names began businesses in Moline such as Charles Borg who came to Moline in 1881 (Borg-Warner Corporation). John Strombeck was born in Nöbbelöv, Skåne, Sweden in 1851 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1868 eventually landing in Moline and joining the Mission Covenant Church;in 1890 he was instrumental in forming the Evangelical Free Church in Moline - the Swedish language was used exclusively in the services. John was a shoemaker in Moline until he died. The First Covenant Church records show John's children to be George Mauritz, born 1880, Johan Fredrik, born in 1881, Ann Adelia, 1884, and Bertha Chistina, born in 1890. By 1910, one-third of Moline's residents were Swedish.
Johan Fredrik Strombeck, or J.F. Strombeck, more commonly known to his family as as "Fred", worked as a youth in the shipping department of D.M. Sechler Carriage Company where he became expert enough in freight shipment classification that he resigned and began his own freight auditing business. In 1907 he sold the auditing business and entered Northwestern University and graduated in 1911 with a Phi Beta Kappa key. That same year he married Miss Theckla Klint of Rockford, Illinois. His brother George went to the University of Illinois engineering school. Fred had eyed the wood scraps thrown out at the John Deere plant while engaged in his freight auditing business, thinking that constructive use could be made of the waste material and on September 1,1911 began a small operation to turn the scraps into tool handles and the like. In a 1953 interview, J.F. said, "Our first shop was small, only 20 by 40 feet, with an 8 ft. ceiling too low to properly accomodate our machinery." Other sources describe the shop as a "decrepit shack" located in the rear of the John Deere plant! Actually, the $20 per month "shack" was next to Dimock, Gould & Company. R.D. Becker, described as a "kid", joined Strombeck on October 15, 1911 and became superintendent of production while Fred (J.F.) handled sales according to reports - in essence, the two men were the company and did everything necessary to run the company. J.F. was teaching Sunday school and met R.D. Becker as one of his students; R.D. was a high school valedictorian. The two men incorporated as Strombeck-Becker Mfg. Co. in 1913; Becker became vice-president and production superintendent. They soon discovered that scrap lumber was not a good raw material and purchased their own logs. Becker colorfully describes the early days of their incorporation with J.F. holding a majority of the stock: "The rest of the stock was held by men in the Company employ and by local residents who had faith in the future prospects of the Company. There were times when this faith became somewhat weak even in the hearts of those most interested in the success of the Company. I can well remember when Mr. Strombeck and I were working on a machine, and we paused long enough to take a look at the mail which had just been delivered. After opening the mail, Mr. Strombeck showed me an order, and told me that that very morning he had made the decision that if no order came in the mail, he was going to abandon the whole project; but on the strength of the order just received, he was going to continue."
Mr. Becker further describes their early days: "We were without the benefits of a shavings and sawdust collection system, and in the milder weather it was necessary to shovel all the shavings through one of the windows into a wagon placed there by the courtesy of Dimock, Gould & Company, and then burned by them. In cold weather the shavings and saw-dust were burned in a large pot-belly furnace used to heat the building, and, in looking back, the miracle of the whole thing is that we did not burn up the place before we got a good start."
T.H. Becker, a brother of R.D. Becker, joined the firm on February 18, 1915; he later was to take charge of assembly work on a large government order (100,000) for shelter-tent poles in WWI. T.H. became Treasurer and stayed with the Company until his retirement in 1959.
Strombeck-Becker purchased a square city block "located between 50th and 51st Street and between 4th and 2nd Avenue, in the east end of the city of Moline, for a consideration of $1,570.00" in 1917. A two-story brick building was built and occupied by early 1918.
Fred's brother George Maurice Strombeck, a graduate engineer, joined the company on April 1, 1917 and received 10% of the corporation stock; he had left his position as a designing engineer with the Root A. Vander Voort Engineering Company. George used his engineering talents to design high-speed machinery that would improve production. The company had it's own sawmill and also purchased lumber - large kilns were used to dry the green wood. The factory employed many Swedes. Two additional stories were added to the factory in 1921, doubling the production facilities and another one-story building was added in 1922.
R.D. Becker states that, "The first indication of toys appeared during the year 1919, when a set of tenpins was produced. However, due to insufficient sales facilities and the fact that we had but one toy item to offer, it did not sell well, and the item was discontinued." (note: The ten pin set was reissued in a different box around 1928.)
The StromBecKer Ten Pins set, initially made for one year only, is the most significant Strombeck-Becker Mfg. Co. artifact in CollectAir's collection of StromBecKer items. This set is the origin of the wood toy line by this company. Additional photos of this set are shown below - about 90 years old.
Strombeck-Becker's fortunes began to change in 1922 - a year of severe business depression although the Company had increased their sales by 20% - as they searched for new products (Bakelite started to cut into their business) and elected to manufacture wooden toys. Becker comments that, "At about this time in the history of the Company, it was deemed advisable to diversify our production, rather than depend entirely upon the wood turning and handle line. We felt that wooden toys would fit into our type of equipment better than anything else, and consequently some cautious steps along this line were taken, starting with an item called 'Chatter-Chix' in 1924. However, sales were not good, and it was discontinued. At about the same time, two sets of educational design blocks, known as Hexablox and Diamoblox, were introduced, and met with a fair amount of success. Sales of these items tapered off as time went on, and these items were discontinued in about 1929."
Blocks, the Junior Craft Blox, BuildoBlox, Diamo Blox and Hexo blocks became mainstays; the ad below is from the September 1926 issue of Junior Home Magazine. Of interest, note the subtle separation between "Strom" and "BecKer" which later disappeared. PlayThings became the key term.
The BUILDOBLOX set came out in 1926; it consisted of two packed layers of blocks and wood pieces. The instruction book rear cover showed the method of carefully repacking the blocks after use. I suspect that no child ever repacked the set according to instructions! The "Helpful Guide" cover is shown below. Click on this cover for a large, printable version along with two sample pages from the guide. Use the back arrow to return.
Becker: "In 1928, 3-inch and 8-inch candlesticks were added, as well as some 10-inch electric lamps. A set of toys known as 'Tumbling Triplets,' as well as a set of indoor croquet, was also added with modest success. A photo of the Indoor Croquet, dated 1926, is shown below.
However, in 1928, a 10-cent toy airplane for the Woolworth trade was introduced and met with immediate success. About a half-million of these were sold in 1929 and continued in good volume."
Additional factory space was added by 1930. Also, a full-time salesman for the toy line, Charles E. Rowell, was hired in 1928 - he continued in the sales position until his retirement in 1959.
Ten-year-old Fred Jr. was given credit by his father, J.F., for coming up with the idea of toy trains - whether this attribution is apocryphal or not is beside the point - Strombeck-Becker started making ten-cent, durable, wooden toy trains by 1929, designed by Andrew Bergstrand who joined the company in 1922. Eight freight cars were sold as individual pieces or in sets. During 1929 more than 1,500,000 of these cars were sold as individual pieces, plus over 200,000 pieces sold in sets. The October 1936 issue of Railroad Stories, in an article entitle "Two Million Locomotive Models", states that Mr. Becker got the idea for trains as he waited for a train to pass at a crossing. Whatever the reason, the toy trains were the genesis of the Strombeck-Becker line of train assembly kits which then spilled over to airplanes, ships and military weapons. Although the initial trains were simple and inexpensive assembled toys, kits came soon afterwards.
StromBecKer didn't invent the wooden toy train or wood kits to build locomotives and cars, but they were one of the successful manufacturers to exploit the marketplace for wooden toys. Predating StromBecKer's effort, the A. Schoenhut Co. of Philadelphia came out with wood "kits" which were suitable for youngsters to build crude automobiles and trains by 1926. One example would be the Schoenhut's "All Wood Train to Build," Item number 04/2; this kit consisted of precut, boxed wood parts which could be easily assembled into a toy locomotive and train cars.
Other toys also became staples of the company along with doll houses and furniture which were added in 1931; games were big items and the "Bill Ding" interlocking wooden figures became one of the all-time best sellers for the company.
The Chicago Century of Progress Exposition in the early 1930s spurred the train line for Strombeck-Becker and was instrumental in developing the kit products that we cherish and collect today.
The postcard, shown below, was printed by Burlington for the A Century of Progress exhibit. The reverse side of the card states, "This card furnished for mailing in the Postal Car on the Burlington's World's Fair Exhibition Train."
The chief toy designer, Andrew Bergstrand (another Swede), was directed by J.F. to attend the "Wings of a Century" pageant at the Chicago world's Fair where many historic locomotives had been placed on exhibit; he sketched and measured the old trains. J.F. was hesitant about making scale model trains because of the price that they would have to charge - the idea to put out inexpensive assembly kits was the answer and Bergstrand's designs became the first six model kits of locomotives with pre-shaped wooden (pine) parts. Although these kits were just sort-of-scale toys, they were simple in order to achieve what Strombeck-Becker always maintained - that a youngster could assemble the toy kit "as is" or a more skilled craftsman could sand and paint the kit to make a more perfect and authentic scale model. "Seven to Seventy" was the motto that was always kept. An example of the first "Century of Progress in Locomotives" kit series is shown below. The first six kits (no kit numbers) were the De Witt Clinton 1831 , Modern Locomotive 1934 (4-6-0) (shown - note that there are no coupling rods), Pioneer 1851, C.P. Huntington 1863, Empire State Express 1893, and the Tom Thumb 1830.
The back of the box reads: "StromBecKer PLAYTHINGS - this set of six historic models of steam locomotives represent the progress of a Century of American Railroad Transportation from the Tom Thumb, the first locomotive (built by Peter Cooper) to a modern steam passenger locomotive. Any boy from seven to seventy will enjoy assembling and painting these models. When finished the series of six will be a fine exhibit of railroad progress. Fathers will enjoy working with their boys on these models or assembling them as toys for boys too small to help with the work. STROMBECK-BECKER MANUFACTURING CO., MOLINE, ILL." Keep in mind that these first kits were little more than toys - although undated, these 25¢ kits are from 1934 according to R.D. Becker. In keeping with the suggestion that fathers build these kits, I have very fond memories of the Tom Thumb, DeWitt Clinton and the C.P. Huntington which my father built for me when I was a tender age - he had painted them exactly as the kit suggested, black with silver trim. I remember playing with them for years (durable!). He may have gotten the idea from the World's Fair as I was taken there as an infant when we lived in Chicago. As you can guess, the StromBecKer line racks my feeble brain with nostalgia!
It is reported that they sold two million of the kits in a single year! A second set of six engines, along with cars, hit the market soon afterwards - these were somewhat better kits as shown below. The early train kits were kept in the StromBecKer line and given kit numbers; by 1936, larger and more complete train model kits, quite scale, were brought out, including the two-foot long Hudson (beautiful) that was priced at a whopping two dollars. The success of the trains convinced J.F. that pre-carved model kits were part of the future.
NYC Hudson Type Locomotive Kit - 1931K - 1936. This large, 1:48 scale kit was the "queen" of all the StromBecKer train kits. The incredible box of wood parts (see below) was sold in 1936 for $2.00 - the box is 5 1/2" x 12" x 2 3/4" deep and must have the highest part count of any StromBecKer wood kit - maybe the A75 Light Tank could compete on part count if the individual track pieces are counted. This kit is quite scarce and is one of the finest of the StromBecKer collectible kits. The two side views are from the "Simple Assembly Instructions." The plan states that the Hudson was "Built by American Locomotive Co., June, 1931."
The complete line of StromBecKer Historical Locomotive Models is shown in a centerfold catalog in the 1936 publication, Historical Locomotives by Paul T. Warner; this 32-page, soft cover booklet was published by Strombeck-Becker Manufacturing Company to promote their line of locomotive kits - a very clever advertising device. The booklet is devoted to a history and theory of steam locomotives, from the beginnings to the latest oil burning types such as the 4-8-8-2 articulated type. The last paragraph reads, "Our story is finished, and we hope that you have found it interesting. Some people believe that the day of the steam locomotive is nearly over, but we do not think so. New designs will appear - better, faster and more powerful locomotives than those now in service to make railroad history in generations to come."
Note that the orignal six kits in 1934 are labelled as "Not Strictly Scale Models", but that the next six kits, from the 1831A B&O York to the 1933F N.Y.C. Commodore Vanderbilt, are "Strictly Scale Models" as are all of the following series which include two scales, 3/16" and 1/4", of the 1931K N.Y.C. Hudson Type Locomotive. The 33 1/4" length 1922HT Modern Freight Train in 5/32" = 1" scale is priced at only $1.00!
The N.P. Minnetonka 1870-D kit is one of the second "scale" series from 1936. Northern Pacific. This legendary railroad ran from Tacoma to St. Paul MN from the 1870s until merging with the Great Northern in 1970. Labeled as #1, The Minnetonka was the NP's first locomotive. It was built in Pittsburgh PA in 1870, and was purchased by the NP in 1871. Records indicate the locomotive was sold to a logging company in 1886, which ultimately retired the unit in the late 1920s. A few years later, the NP found the unit sitting in the woods and traded it for a working locomotive. #1 was still operational, and served the NP as an exhibition piece for many years. Today The Minnetonka is displayed at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth MN, alongside The William Crooks, first steam locomotive in Minnesota. The photos below show the original Minnetonka locomotive and tender, 0-4-0T, and a nicely made built-up of the StromBecKer kit aloong with its box from 1936.
An advertisement on page 15 encourages youth to "Assemble your own autthentic scale locomotive models. Make leisure hours pleasure hours with this new, entertaining, instructive hobby. Learn about the most important locomotives in railroading as you have fun assembling these wooden Authentic Scale StromBecKer Models. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, boys and girls are assembling them for competitive handicraft exhibits - as decorative pieces for studios, dens, and offices - as playthings with real historical interest. They cost little, but are 'priceless' when asembled. Start with one model - learn how fascinating it is to put together the finished parts - then make a complete collection."
Each page of the booklet has locomotive photographs; an example is shown below.
And, another picture of the terrific Hudson locomotive in 1/4" scale.
The 1939/1940 New York World's Fair featured a huge stage spectacle, Railroads on Parade. A cast of 250, 20 locomotives and 50 horses paraded on the "world's largest stage". Information on this spectacle can be found on the web - an amazing show by today's standards. Six StromBecKer rail kits were issued which featured some of the locomotives used in the stage production. These kits carried the logo of "Railroads on Parade" on the kit box. The kits were: 1869C Ross Winans Camel-back, 1861C Wm. Crooks Great Northern, 1875C J.W. Bowker mining, 1837C Wm. Galloway, 1830C Best Friend of Charleston, and 1831C De Witt Clinton. See photos below.
The photos below show the "Daylight" kit; several pieces have been loosely joined to give an idea of the locomotive's shape. The complete plan can be viewed and printed by clicking here. Both of the printed card sheets are displayed below.
The first airplane kit produced by Strombeck-Becker was the China Clipper, Kit A51, which came out in 1936 according to R.D. Becker (the first commercial flight of the Martin M-130 Clipper on November 22, 1935 is noted on the A51 plan). Sales of this kit exceeded one million. Price for this kit was 25-cents. The pre-war (pre-1942) StromBecKer airplane, ship and military weapon kits were mostly a "fit the box" scale, almost none of them in the same scale. Kit boxes for some of the pre-WWII kits are shown below.
Some of the more unusual StromBecKer pre-war kits included several artillery pieces (155mm Gun and Carriage, 75 mm Gun and Carriage, and 3" Anti-aircraft Gun) and a U.S. Army Light tank. The 155mm Gun is a very elaborate, large piece with many parts - a picture of the kit contents and a built 155mm are shown below along with a tank ad and picture of the kit contents.
The pre-war StromBecKer kits, particularly the airplanes and artillery, are relatively scarce and command a premium price on the collector market. For the most part, these pre-war kits are simple renditions - the overall configurations are reasonably accurate but represent little more than a nice toy. Because they only required simple assembly, most kits were probably "started" by their youthful owner - for that reason many "built" kits show up as sturdy survivors, unlike the original kit and box. Note that the plan general instructions stated that "This kit contains all parts for making an authentic scale model..." When thinking of StromBecKer, keep in mind that these pre-war kits were designed and sold primarily as toys. An enlightening statement was made by Vernon Strombeck (George Maurice's son who became company president in 1972 upon the death of Fred Jr.) in a 1986 interview for Lilly Setterdahl's 2002 book, Swedes in Moline, Illinois, concerning Strombeck-Becker: "We made handles by the million. Sold all over the country. Employed 235 at one time. Got into toy furniture that sold in department stores. We made toy airplanes."
Correspondent Jim Hensley finished the China Clipper A51 kit,as shown below, which started as an unfinished, "built" model. The finished product exactly matches the plan; no attempt was made to "correct" the errors of planform.
The PBY kit plan, C8, can be viewed by clicking here. Use the back arrow to return.
The excellent, massive book, Pacific Pioneers - The Rest of the Story, by Jon Krupnick, tells the history of Pan Am's Pacific first flights from 1935 to 1946 using souvenir flight covers and many photographs. The book describes an interesting connection to StromBecKer on page 261. Captain Edwin Musick piloted a Pan Am survey flight to New Zealand which left Alameda on March 17, 1937 and arrived in Auckland on March 29th. The flight's First Officer, Frank Briggs, brought a StromBecKer M-130 China Clipper, Kit A51, model with him on the flying boat (although the flight was made in a Sikorsky S-42) as a souvenir which he then had signed by Harold Gatty (a Pan Am representative) and four crew members. The photo below is from the book - note the modern stand on the model.
Collector and kit guru Walt Grigg mentions that he has a 1935 Simmons Hardware wholesale catalog that lists two StromBecKer trains, the 1A National Fast Freight and the 217 American Fast Freight - these are assembled toys, not kits, and were sold by the dozen. Strombeck-Becker did very little pre-war retail advertising, preferring to sell wholesale; their airplane, ship and artillery line was carried in the catalogs of Cleveland, Megow and Comet in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Megow's catalog No. 6 from Fall-Winter 1938. Note that the name "StromBecKer" does not appear and that all the airplane and ship kits are listed with Megow's "M" numbers - train kits were ordered by their name, no catalog number.
The Boeing Stratoliner kit number C30 was in 3/32 inch to 1-foot scale and is a fairly accurate model of the famous airliner. Click on the markings sheet from the kit, as shown below, and view the two-page plan of the model.
Contributor Joe Rosenthal restored an old "built" DC-4E as shown below.
Strombeck-Becker wisely began a "Model Maker's Club" which rewarded young builders with badges which denoted skill levels based on the number of kits built. Each kit had an insert to be mailed in to the company - this "club" practice followed the popular radio clubs such as Captain Midnight's Secret Squadron's, Jimmie Allen's Cadets, and other breakfast cereal "secret" code rings. Belonging and certifying one's skills was important to the 1930s youngster. Chapters could be formed with six members and receive a "Charter" from StromBecKer - each member had a secret number and a "Secret Code Book and Manual". Chapter No.1 was in Moline. This club idea was updated following WW2 and featured Captain Jet with a modernized wings pin.
Note the name Jack Becker in the caption above. There was no "Jack". Young Rodney "Bud" Becker, son of R.D. , was the "model" used for "Jack"; the name Rodney was deemed inappropriate so the moniker of "Jack" was established. He appeared in a 3-D, 35 mm film by "TruView"(sp?) as a young "Jack" Becker running a model club.
What is in a pre-war kit? StromBecKer kits emphasized that "All parts ready shaped" and that "No carving tools needed!". The airplane kits were made from "western pine"; the fuselage was nicely shaped and sanded. The wing was airfoil shaped with rounded tips - cutouts were made for nacelles on multi-engine ships (the reverse, a cutout nacelle also appeared). The tail surfaces were precut to outline shape. Cutouts or grooves were made in the fuselage to accept the wing - same for tail. A sanding tool consisted of a strip of wood and two pieces (course and fine garnet) of sandpaper to glue to the stick used to "...sanding the pilot's cabin, wing, and tailpieces to the right shape." as mentioned on the YB-17 plan. A packet of "Casco" casein glue and a packet of filler were included. A small paper envelope, stamped with the aircraft type and kit number, held rubber wheels, pre-formed wire for landing gear, perhaps some miscellaneous small parts, and a stamped-metal prop(s) and a nail(s) for installation. No water-slide decals in the pre-war kits; each kit had a paper sheet with color markings and features such as windows which were to be cutout and glued to the model prior to finishing with clear varnish or lacquer. The one-sheet plan was printed with a half-size three-view and some full-size templates and parts drawings where necessary. The plan has a coupon to send in for any missing parts (glue coupon to one-penny postcard). General instructions for assembling were printed on the reverse. Most of the pre-war kit plans are not dated (see below). Also, the "Model Maker's Club" was promoted with an insert which included a club card, information and a mail-in coupon for the free club badge.
Shown in the photos of the kit box above, a separate kit, C10, provided an "Airplane Model Stand", a teardrop shaped wood base with a red vertical dowel - this stand was provided in some of the later kits, but is obviously for the first six airplane kits in this kit form.
The StromBecKer kit C2, the YB-17 Flying Fortress (also variously referred to as the Y1B-17 which is actually the correct designation in 1938 - the 1936 contract at first used YB-17 but was later changed before the first flight of the Y1B-17), scale 7/64" = 1', plan states the following: "THE FLYING FORTRESS (Boeing YB-17) INTERESTING INFORMATION, January 1938, The pride of the United States Air Corps is America's largest landplane now in service. It is the Boeing YB-17 four-engined bomber, popularly known as the 'Flying Fortress', manufactured by Boeing Aircraft Co., Seattle, Wash.....etc." Most of the pre-war plans do not carry a date such as this one, although this kit also appeared without the date on the same comments. Detail of portion of plan C2 shown below along with the kit parts.
A delightful two-page plan of the Boeing Model 299 Flying Fortress, taken from the November 1935 issue of Model Airplane News, can be viewed full size by clicking here.
All this kit business (various construction sets) was successful during America's severe depression of the 1930s. Strombeck-Becker advertised their line as "First in Solid Models" - they were the first company to offer kits made up of preshaped parts. J.F. was quoted in 1953, "We feel that the satisfaction and pleasure of accomplishment is the main purpose in model building."
A thorough exposition of the StromBecKer doll house and furniture line can be found by clicking here.
The StromBecKer Playthings Grand Piano, 701CD, pictured below, can be identified as a prewar item because of the "Playthings" logo (although used postwar also); it would be part of the doll house furniture line. The piano came out in 1937 and was available as a wood item only or with a Swiss movement that sounded like a player piano. This piano with the Swiss movement sold for a whopping $5.00!
The "Burlington Zephr" toy train, pictured below, is probably a pre-WWII toy, but is not commonly listed. This elegant train was also in use following WWII so the actual vintage of this "StromBecKer Playthings" toy is not known to this writer.
Around twenty-one total of airplane, artillery, tank and ship kits came out prior to 1942, of which about eleven were airplanes. There were additional variations of basically the same kit. It is reported that kits were sold in Canada under the name Granger and perhaps some of these embodied changes for the folks up north. The queens of the warship kits were the Battleships California and Texas and the Cruiser Brooklyn which came out in 1940. A portion of the plan for the USS California, C16, is shown below.
The Cruiser Brooklyn, Kit SC91, in 1/32" = 1' scale, is shown below in a Megow catalog ad from 1941.
The fact that these U.S.-made kits were sold for twenty-five cents is astounding when viewed from the realities of today's economy. The U.S. Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Warrington, is shown below in a completed model. This kit C14 from 1940 also appeared in the Megow catalog as kit SC62 for fifty-cents when a base and paints were also furnished.
The StromBecKer plan of the U.S.S. Indianapolis Cruiser Model, kit number C11, can be viewed by clicking here.
Of course train kits were a big item with dozens of locomotives and rail cars (typical prewar box shown below) in many different scales being offered.
The diesel engines and rail cars and passenger cars usually featured shaped wood, built-up structures that were then covered with colorful, pre-printed cardstock for finishing. The best kit of the lot was the NYC Hudson Type Locomotive (4-6-4) in 1:48 scale, 1931K, which measured 23 1/4" in length. A smaller version, kit 1931J, was in 1:64 (3/16"=1') scale.
During this period, Strombeck-Becker was growing. R.D. Becker states that, "In order to cope with our rapidly expanding business, we purchased a brick building, formerly occupied by the Abraham Candy Company of Moline, and located at 20th Street and 2nd Avenue, in Moline. About half of the building was two stories high, and the other half four stories. This was used for many years as a packaging plant, warehouse, and shipping point for model kits and toys. In addition to this building, generally known to our personnel as Plant #2, it became necessary at various times to rent additional space in other buildings in the area for storage or toys and kits."
We'll leave this pre-WWII era with Becker's comment about their product line of kits started in 1934 , "..was destined to become the most popular, as well as the most lucrative, item in our line, namely our very accurately scaled solid model kits."
During WWII, the Strombeck-Becker company drastically cut back on model kits and was heavily involved in war production of wooden items for the government. They made pedestals for the Browning automatic rifle, "grease gun" handles, stocks for shotguns, pistol grips, signal flare parts, gun plugs, and resting pads for hand grenades.
The Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics began a program for high schools in early 1942 to construct recognition or "ID" models in wood in 1:72 scale as an interim measure until the manufacture of plastic recognition models by Cruver of Chicago could begin introducing the high production training aids to military units. The original plans and templates in 1:72 scale were drawn by Comet Models and were distributed to schools throughout the country by March, 1942. Several model airplane companies such as Comet and Megow produced simple kits for the recognition models for the retail market - these kits were merely the Navy's plan and template sheet (title block altered) and several blocks of pine wood. The wood recognition models were devoid of any extra parts not assisting in visual training such as landing gear, propellers, antenna etc. The High School Model Building Program continued for several years although the output was for patriotic and "home front" encouragement reasons primarily; the Navy wanted to abandon the effort soon after it started but was swayed by the fact that students were enthusiastic about building the models - and they were learning recognition which would serve them as many were inducted into military service.
StromBecKer began their "Spotter Series" during WWII; these models were pre-carved pine kits and did not have the usual metal propeller(s) and landing gear. The models were in 1:72 scale to correspond to the military training scale. These kits using machine carved parts were not made for the government but it is reported that they were distributed or made available to military units through recreational services or the Red Cross and USO.
Only six kits were produced in the Spotter Series, each in a red, white and blue box with a three-view silhouette (advised to cut-out) and specifications on the box front. The kits (with StromBecKer kit number) were: S26 Curtiss P-40E, S50 Martin B-26C Marauder, S51 Douglas A-20A Boston/Havoc, S100 Boeing B-17E, S101 Consolidated B-24D (had round nacelles per the government drawings - post-war B-24J kit had the correct "oval" shaped nacelles) and, inexplicably, the Curtiss SBC-4 Helldiver, kit number S25 of this obsolete biplane (the only biplane that StromBecKer made. The wartime plan of the SBC-4 may be viewed by clicking here.). The same kits were also produced as a Boy Scout series. A StromBecKer SBC-4, rebuilt from a roughly assembled example, is pictured below; the model was finished by enthusiast Jim Hensley - the markings have been made from the original markings sheet with the exception of the early insignia with a red center.
Frequent photo and article contributor, Jim Larsen, authored a delightful one-page story, "Forgotten Spotter Models of World War Two," in the Volume 45 Number 6 issue of Air Classics, which spotlights the spotter model kits made by StromBecKer during the Second World War. You can enjoy reading this tribute to StromBecKer's wartime kits by by clicking here.
An example of the StromBecKer S100 wartime kit is pictured below.
Correspondent and StromBecKer collector/builder Joe Rosenthal submitted the photo below of "rescued" models of the B-26 Marauder.
Contributor Tom Sanders refurbished the B-26 model shown below; Tom's comments and description of the model are captioned.
The B-17E Spotter Series kit was issued, along with the other spotter models, as an "Official Air Scout Spotter Series." The box photos below show the B-17E kit which is labeled as Catalog No. 1896, the special numbering system given to the Boy Scout kits by the Boy Scouts of America National Supply Service. These Air Scout kits did not carry the StromBecKer logo, only a mention that they were "Made in the United States of America by Stromveck-Becker Mfg. Co., Moline, Ill." The B-24D kit, also shown below, is Catalog No. 1897.
Wartime strategic materials restrictions on the use of metal and rubber in model kits required a few changes for kits manufactured during the emergency. The metal props were replaced with die-cut card propellers and wheels were wood with wood struts - a collector may be assured that these substitutions were appropriate for the 1942-44 kits.
Note that StromBecKer came out with one other new wartime kit, C31 of the P-39 Airacobra, which did not include a metal propeller (dated 2-17-42) and which preceded the spotter series; also it was the only wood StromBecKer airplane in 1/4" equal 1-foot scale up to that time and was the first single-engine airplane kit to be produced by Strombeck-Becker - all of the earlier airplane kits were either two or four engine aircraft. This kit, shown below, cost 29¢. If you would like to view the P-39 plan and print to original size then Click here for P-39 .pdf file. The file size is 1.07 mB.
The Tru-Vue Stereoscope viewer was manufactured in Rock Island, Illinois by Tru-Vue, Inc. During WW2, a stereo film Number 231, "Keep 'Em Flying," featured black & white stereo photos of models which were to be used for recognition training purposes by civilians. The Tru-Vue film strips were basically 35 mm film about 32 inches in length with each picture duplicated for stereo viewing purposes; the film was tightly rolled and could be easily inserted into the viewer. Each film strip was sold for $1.00 in an individual box marked with the title. Although hundreds of films were produced, this was the only film dedicated to recognition. It has been estimated that Tru-Vue sold over one million reels in 1949.
Tru-Vue, Inc. was founded in 1931 and made a showing at the 1933 Chicago "Century of Progress Exposition," the same fair that sparked StromBecKer's interest in railroad models. The company flourished up to 1952 at which time the company was acquired by Sawyers View-Master of Beaverton, Oregon. Color was introduced by Tru-Vue in 1950 to compete with the Sawyer's View-Master reels. The Stereoscope was continued by Sawyer but changed from film strip to cards featuring 7 stereo views instead of the 14 on the original film. The last cards were made in the 1960s.
Why this one reel of recognition models and how did StromBecKer get incolved? We may never know but a few things point the way. Rock Island, Illinois and Moline, Illinois (home of StromBecKer) are sister cities, so it is entirely likely that contact between the two companies occurred. StromBecKer may have offered the models in exchange for the publicity. The models featured on the film are the P-39, Boeing 307 Stratoliner, Hudson, B-17, Sikorsky S-43, Martin B-26, Boeing 314 Clipper, SB2C-4 Helldiver, PBY-5 Catalina, Douglas A20A, and inexplicably, the Brewster SB2A-1. Although the reel states that these are all StromBecKer models, the Brewster was never offered by StromBecKer, so it may have been a test model or one that they elected to not produce - or possibly one built to the Navy wood model program just to fill out the reel. Some of the models have plastic discs to replace the propellers and most have a camouflage finish.
Pardon the quality of the following photos from the film reel; they were taken through one lens of the Stereoscope.
Several management changes occured during WWII. J.F.'s son, F.K. "Freddie" Strombeck, joined the company in 1943. George M. Strombeck retired on July 20, 1943 and concurrently F.K. "Freddie" was elected Vice-President.
At the conclusion of WW2, Strombeck-Becker embarked on an aggressive strategy to come out with a full line of new and up-dated assembly kits as well as move into other areas of the toy business. I suspect that they had been designing these kits near the war's end to be ready for the peacetime market.
Continue Strombeck-Becker Manufacturing Co. history, Part Two, into the postwar era by Clicking Here.
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