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Holgate

Holgate Toy Company, world famous for its wooden toys designed by Jarvis Rockwell (Brother of Norman Rockwell), was founded in 1929 and still operates in Kane, Pennsylvania.

The following revised article on WWII Holgate toys was written by collector Bob Guenthner. Since writing the first article, Bob made an email acquaintance with Charlie Hanson, whose father was a supervisor at the Holgate factory in the 1930s.  Charlie has quite a few Holgate catalogs from the 1930s and 1940s.  Through their email correspondence, Bob discovered that there were a few dates in his original article that are not accurate. The following is Bob's article revised April 11, 2008.

Click here to see our ID Guide for over 120 Holgate toys.

 

HOLGATE ARMY VEHICLES

by

Bob Guenthner

            Even though the United States did not enter World War II until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, the 1941 Holgate toy catalog already displayed almost a full page of Army vehicles. (Holgate apparently published two 1941 catalogs; the Army toys were included only in the second 1941 catalog.)  Included were a jeep, a “jeep tank destroyer” (which was a jeep pulling a cannon), a 155mm tank, a “six x six” troop truck and an ambulance.  Holgate included a lengthy introduction to its 1941 catalog,  touting its Army toys, toys that it proudly called “Toys of Today.”  

           “With martial fanfare and roll of drums Holgate announces its new Toys of Today.  From actual equipment used in the United States Army came the inspiration for these new additions to the vigorous, vital, Holgate Toy family!


          
'Toys of Today' were designed in response to a demand by parents and teachers, who felt that with the present day emphasis in pictures, conversation, books, radio on the war-effort, wholesome, scientific war toys were a normal and desirable outlet for children.

          
Every one of these Toys of Today has definite training value. Every one comes apart in some way to develop coordination in young hands.  Every one is mobile, pushable, helps strengthen young muscles.

  

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1941 Catalog Page
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The catalog introduction was a recognition of the child-rearing theories of child psychologist, Dr. Benjamin Spock, which were very much in vogue.   “Good” parents would never buy a toy for a child unless it furthered the child’s physical development and psychological well being. Consistent with this marketing approach, Holgate also included in its 1940s catalogs recommendations as to which toys were appropriate for children of different ages.  The Army vehicles were recommended for children from two to ten years of age.  By 1943, the Toys of Today received a two-page spread in the Holgate catalog.
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1943 Toy Spread
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  Although Holgate toys were well-made and durable, they were relatively expensive compared to other toys of their time.  Today, however, their 1941-1943 prices seem amazingly inexpensive. 

Army Jeep    $ .75
Jeep Tank Destroyer 1.25
Army Six x Six Truck 1.25
155mm Tank 2.00
Army Ambulance 1.50
 
The first jeep had a removable top and four peg soldiers.  It bore the number  F5 on the sides of its hood.  Its wheels were held on by small-headed nails, 3/8 inch in diameter.  In the 1941 catalog, the jeep is given the number 664.   Some F5 jeeps had a spare tire on the rear, others on the side.   On later 664 jeeps, the wheels were held on with larger-headed nails, 1/2 inch in diameter, and the F5 markings were dropped.  This continued into 1943.  Later in WWII, steel was reserved strictly for the manufacture of military equipment, and nails were no longer available for axles on the jeep or any other Holgate toys.  From then until after the end of the war, wheels were held on with wooden pegs. 
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F5 Jeep
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664 Jeep
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The jeep that was part of the jeep tank destroyer in the 1941 catalog had no top, not even holes in the rear of the body to hold a top.  It was otherwise the F5 jeep, but with a spare tire nailed to the side of the hood so that a hook on the back could pull the cannon.  Later the design was changed, and the tank destroyer jeep was given a top, like the regular jeeps.  The jeep tank destroyer was given the catalog number  665.
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Tank Destroyer Jeep
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The first  type of tank, slightly smaller than later tanks, appeared in the 1941 catalog and was called a 155mm tank.  It had no turret or small guns, only one large gun that could not be rotated but that could be raised and lowered.  In front of the big gun was a cover that was removable.  Under it were places for two peg soldiers. This tank’s wheels were smaller than those later tanks, only 1 5/8 inches in diameter, and were painted black.  It was given the catalog number 669.
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Tanks
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 In 1942 Holgate produced and sold a large tank that came in two variations.  One had a small round gun turret; the other had a larger square gun turret.  The tanks were otherwise the same, with two smaller guns in the front and two in the rear.  The turret rotated and was removable, and the entire top part of the tank was also removable, revealing places for two peg soldiers in the front and two in the rear.

The platform for the body of the tank was a sheet of very thin, 1/8 inch plywood, a material that was not used on any other Holgate vehicle. The catalog number 624 was painted on both sides of this tank.  The wheels on this tank were a big 2 1/2 inches in diameter and were painted blue.  The tank itself was twelve inches long and 5 1/2 inches high, the largest of the Army vehicles, including a later style tank.  Its insignia was the pre-WWII form of the star with the red circle in the middle of the star.  When the Army changed its insignia to eliminate the red circle (because it looked too much like the Japanese rising sun flag symbol), Holgate tanks changed to the new Army insignia, without the red ball in the center. 

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Tank Removable Parts
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155mm Tank
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Place for Soldiers
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By the time the 1943 catalog was issued, Holgate was producing a third style of tank, which it called the Battle Tank.  It was more modern than the 624 tank, but it still bore the same catalog number.  It would later be given the catalog number HT624 (the HT presumably being for "Holgate Toys").  This tank had both a big gun and a small gun in the rotating turret and three small guns in the front only.  The top half of this tank was also removable, but the only thing that this revealed was an open box in the body of the tank in which small things could be hidden.  Unlike both of the other styles of tanks, the only peg soldier was the one in the turret.  However, this peg soldier was turned on a lathe so that he had a “helmet,” unlike the round-headed peg people that were at the time used in other Holgate Army vehicles. 
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Battle Tank
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Battle Tank Parts
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The six x six truck was a troop-carrying truck with dual wheels in the back.  It had places for ten peg soldiers in the back, five on each side riding on a "bench", as well as a driver and passenger in front.  According to the catalog, it was “so called because on the real trucks every one of the giant wheels is power driven.”  It was given the catalog number 666.
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Six X Six Truck
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The ambulance was the Army vehicle that perhaps offered the most potential for make-believe play, especially for little girls who were presumed to be more interested in nursing the wounded than in blowing things up. The top could be removed, and in the back two “wounded” peg soldiers could lie down on “stretchers,” one on each side.  They could be treated by the three white peg medics or nurses who rode across the back of the ambulance. 
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Ambulance
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Ambulance Wounded & Nurses
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Once the war was over, the Army vehicles disappeared from Holgate catalogs.  In the 1946 catalog, only the six x six truck and the ambulance survived, both with modifications.  The truck now was painted with red markings, a tailgate was added, and the "stretchers" that held the wounded soldiers were removed, leaving the back of the truck completely open.  The Army ambulance was re-lettered to be the ambulance from Holgate Hospital, but otherwise remained the same in design as the Army ambulance.  
By 1948, neither the truck nor the ambulance appeared in the catalog.  The Holgate Army vehicles, like the war itself, had become history.  
   

Bob Guenthner lives in Wichita, Kansas.  He received his first Holgate toy as a boy in 1945.  Since discovering eBay, he has greatly expanded his Holgate toy collection.  All photos are by the author.  All toys shown in photos are from the author’s collection.
You can contact Bob at rguenthner@morrislaing.com