A Brief History
  On the 19th January 1947 Lesney Products was founded by Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith, the title of the company being formed from their names. The two were not related but were old school friends, both attending the Central School, Enfield. They lost touch during the Second World War but met again soon after being demobbed. Leslie rejoined the firm he had worked for before the war as a buyer and Rodney returned to his job with a diecasting company, D.C.M.T., in North London.

 

 


Rodney Smith (right) and Lesley Smith in 1936. Used with kind permission from MICA.

  They decided to start a company together and to fulfil a dream they had as boys. With a total of 600 they set up business from an old, run down public house in Edmonton, called The Rifleman. Rodney bought a diecasting machine from his old employer and they started making components for industry, with Leslie running the office.
 


Jack Odell & Leslie Smith.
Used with kind permission from MICA
.

  Shortly after starting work together, Rodney Smith introduced John (Jack) Odell to Leslie. Jack was an extremely talented engineer. Rodney had got to know Jack whilst at D.C.M.T. They struck a deal whereby Jack would run his own business from The Rifleman and contribute towards the 2 a week rent. He started to use his own machines to make industrial castings and also moulds for Lesney Products. He was quite successful and the two Smiths asked him to join them as a full partner. By 1948 Lesney consisted of eight employees and three partners.

 

  (As an aside, Jack Odell's radio call sign during the war was to be used later as the name of his successful company 'Lledo'!)

It soon became clear that the industrial business was seasonal with work drying up at the end of each year. Therefore something was required to bring in business during these lean periods. Late 1947 a toy manufacturer placed an order for a component of a toy gun. This helped them over the period and sowed the seed for the later direction of the company. Anticipating the next year's lean period they made diecast models, similar to Dinky toys but at a third of the price.

In 1951 Rodney Smith left Lesney Products as he could not see that there was any future with the company!

 


The Royal State Coach

  The skills of Jack Odell were amply demonstrated by the production of an exquisite model of the Royal State Coach produced for the coronation of 1953. A miniature version was also produced with over one million being sold. Soon after this success came the idea for more tiny toys housed in replica matchboxes. Jack Odell's daughter had just started school. The school only allowed her to take into school a toy that could be contained within a matchbox. Most children took insects and other horrible things. Jack, therefore made her a miniature road roller out of brass. All her school friends also wanted one so Jack made a mould and cast a few. Thus the "Matchbox" miniature 1-75 range was born.
  The first Yesteryears were introduced in 1956 and provided Odell with a new engineering challenge. The first three Yesteryears were shown at the 1956 Toy Trade Fair, Harrogate. Later it was decided to limit the range to 16 models, replacing models in order to introduce new ones. The models were packaged in boxes similar to those used for the "Matchbox" 1-75 series.

The "Matchbox" trade mark was owned jointly by Lesney Products and their distributor J. Kohnstam & Co. Ltd. In 1959 Lesney paid Kohnstam 80,000 in order to solely own the name and in 1960 the company went public. Coinciding with the floatation of the company the Y15 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was produced. This was the model to really launch the Yesteryear range to the public's attention. This was an exquisitely modelled car which was advertised in 'Veteran and Vintage Magazine', a publication for old car enthusiasts.

 


A Model of Leslie
Smith produced for
MICA in 1990

  In 1966 Lesney Products were awarded their first Queen's award for industry and were performing extremely well. However, by 1971 the company was suffering from the challenge of Hot Wheels to its 1-75 miniature range. It recovered well but in 1973 had to stop production in the first quarter of 1973 because of a national power strike. This is where I will stop the story as this period forced Lesney to rationalise its products and to cut costs - this was the end of the 'Golden Era' of Yesteryear production.

The next page describes the evolution of yesteryear models.

 
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