Toy Tester


There are many different occupations to be found on our family tree. Joseph Feo, the brother-in-law of my wife’s grand-uncle listed on the 1940s Census (as well as on his 1942 draft card) that he was a tester for the Unique Art Manufacturing Company.

I did a little research to find that Unique Art was an American company founded in 1918 in Newark that made inexpensive toys. They were especially known for their wind-up mechanical toys made from lithographed tin. In the 40s, at the height of their popularity, they acquired the rights to the L’il Abner comic strip characters and produced the L’il Abner Dogpatch Band featuring a wind-up Abner dancing, Pappy on drums, Daisy Mae playing piano with Mammy perched atop it. This was followed up with a Howdy Doody band set a few years later.

In its early years, Unique often partnered with the Marx toy company to help manufacture and distribute some of its products but, in 1949, made the decision to enter into a head to head competition with them by producing a line of tin O gauge toy trains which they were able to price lower than Marx’s existing line. Marx countered and had the resources to build better, more realistic trains forcing Unique to discontinue their production.

Unique tried again in 1951 with a toy typewriter which for a time outsold Marx’s similar toy but Marx then moved production of its line to Japan in order to lower costs and drop their prices. Unique couldn’t compete and disappeared from the market in the early 50s.

While originally known as an inexpensive toy maker, original Unique Art wind up toys have now reached collectible status. I’ve seen them offered online for hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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