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Although "phenolic resin"-based materials (such as Bakelite) and impregnated composites were around in the early Twentieth Century, more modern "proper" plastics didn't really start to make a significant appearance until the 1930's, and started to have a significant impact on toymaking after World War Two (1939-1945).

Bodyshells for 00-gauge locomotives and rolling stock increasingly began to be made of injection-moulded plastic rather than diecast metal (although the chassis tended to remain metal for stability and weight), wooden metal and composite kits began being increasingly replaced by plastic kits from companies such as Airfix and Revell, and building sets , which had been characterised by a range of materials including rubber, wood and artificial stone, ended up being swept away by clip-together plastic bricks developed by Hilary Page and popularised by Lego.

Doll faces were cheaper to make in plastic than porcelain, and were more robust than wax, and the appearance of plastics solved the problem of manufacturers of small figures, who were using lead, which while a nice material to work, was beginning to be recognised as toxic and an unsuitable material for children's toys. Plastic foam was more convenient packing for soft toys such as teddybears than highly-inflammable Kapok, and was softer than "wood wool".

Industry changes

Some companies never managed to make the transition to the new post-war plastics-dominated market. Meccano Ltd. had been essentially a metal toys company, and had trouble culturally in embracing the new "cheap and nasty" material, apparently having what few plastic parts they needed in the early days of the material being contracted out, rather than developing their own in-house skills. While the Dublo range eventually started incorporating plastic bodyshells, the change came too late – Rovex Plastics (bought by Lines Brothers) had been making much cheaper plastic-shelled train sets, and while some of the Triang Railways range were initially not as nice as the quality Dublo range, and competed mainly on their lower price, plastic mouldings got to be higher and higher quality (eroding the quality differential), while Meccano Ltd couldn't reduce the price differential to match. Meccano Ltd failed and were taken over by Lines brothers who used a more diverse range of materials, but Lines failed soon after, and were mostly taken over by the Airfix Group.

The appearance of plastics didn't just create competition, it lowered the customers' general perceptions of pricing, making life more difficult for makers of metal quality toys even when they had no direct plastic-based competitors. Some toys that had previously been seen as reasonably priced for what they were started to appear rather expensive.

A textbook example of a successful way to introduce plastics into a business was produced by Arthur Katz of Mettoy. Rather than try to create a plastics department in his traditional metal toy business and have to put up with internal quarrelling, he created a separate plastic toy company, Playcraft, which initially produced some rather nasty plastic products, but steadily improved. Once Playcraft had gained enough experience of the market and processes to be semi-respectable, Katz merged Mettoy and Playcraft together, shocking Meccano Ltd by producing a range of diecast cars to compete with Dinky Toys, that had metal bodies but clear plastic windows and moulded plastic interiors. In some applications, plastic was now no longer the mark of cheap inferior products, it allowed levels of detail and sophistication that weren't previously commercially possible. Okay, so the Corgi interiors and steering wheels looked like plastic, but the Original Dinky toys didn't have interiors at all, and were simple metal shells with holes for windows, and since the interiors of some real cars were becoming more plastic and vinyl, sometimes plastics were more authentic.

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Media in category ‘Plastic’

The following 178 files are in this category, out of 178 total.