people thought this was foolish. They did not think toys
were worth this care, and they could not see any possibilities
in the future of a business where toys were made with such
care. But Edward Ives went ahead, and this was the start
of the famous Ives toy manufacturing business that was to
make toys for over sixty years. The business which was started
in 1868 was to become famous all over the world.
It is hard to think of Edward Ives as a young man. He
so many toys for so many, many years that people who had
played with his toys when they were children and then saw
their children and grandchildren playing with Ives toys
came to think of him as a sort of permanent real-life Santa
Claus, as if he had never himself been young and played
with toys. Perhaps it was some of the crude toys that he
had played with as a boy that inspired him to want to make
much better toys when he grew up.
Probably Edward Ives was the closest thing to a real Santa Claus
that our toymaking industry produced. He was, like Santa Claus,
a friendly, jolly sort of man, and like Santa Claus, he loved
children. But unlike Santa Claus, he was a small, short, thin
man and instead of Santa’s long white beard he had only
a mustache. When it came to toy making though, he was the nearest
thing to Santa Claus we ever had. When he became an old man, and
his hair and mustache had turned white, many people wondered how
such a seemingly little man could have invented and made so many,
Edward Ives was twenty-seven years old, in 1866, he married
a girl in Plymouth named Jennie Blakeslee. Two years later,
he and Jennie’s father, Joel Blakeslee, and her brother,
Cornelius, started to make toys in Plymouth. The first toys
they made were little movable figures of men and animals
called hot air toys. They were worked by little weather
vanes which were turned by the rising hot air from old-fashioned
stoves. The toys had to be very light, so the air would
be strong enough to make them move, and were made mostly
of paper. The hot air toys were of different kinds. One
showed a man sawing wood, and another a cat playing a fiddle.
Still another was of a man tipping his hat and bowing to
Edward Ives wanted to make other kinds of toys, and to make
more of each kind than was possible in the small town of
Plymouth. His toys had already become very popular. In 1870
he moved his growing business to the city of Bridgeport,
Connecticut. His wife, his little boy, Harry, and Joel Blakeslee
and his wife also moved to Bridgeport. Cornelius Blakeslee
moved down to New York to spend all his time selling the
many toys which Edward Ives would make in Bridgeport.
Bridgeport, Edward Ives began making fine clockwork toys
of all kinds. One wonderful type of toy followed another,
and as the demand grew constantly, most of them were made
by the thousands and thousands. More and more factory space
had to be acquired in Bridgeport for the toymaking of Ives,
Blakeslee & Co., as the business was then known.
What wonderful days and what wonderful toys those were!
There were clockwork rowboats with little men who would
paddle them across water with tiny oars, carts and wagons
drawn by galloping horses, boys and girls on swings and
see-saws; men and women dancing, churning butter, playing
fiddles, or riding bicycles. There were mechanical rocking
horses and circus horse trainers and big steamboats which
ran across the floor when you would wind them up. There
were dolls and figures of famous men that would walk, and
even the most wonderful of all dolls, which would not only
walk, but actually say “Mama” and “Papa”
But most interesting to the boys, then as now, were the
locomotives and trains. The first of the Ives locomotives,
the first of millions which Edward Ives and his son Harry
were to make, were of tin. They were powered by clockwork
and ran across the floor without track. Some came with trains
of cars. There were many sizes, and all of them were brightly
colored. Most of them were larger than the toy locomotives
those days every real railroad locomotive had its own name,
and each of the Ives tin toy locomotives was named, too.
Some of the names of the locomotives Edward Ives made in
the 1870’s, 1880’s, and 1890’s were Vulcan,
Victory, Lion, Tiger, Giant, Whistler, and Grand Duke. They
seemed very much like the real locomotives to the boys who
played with them. You could run them in a straight line
or a circle by adjusting the front wheels.
It may perhaps come as a surprise to you to learn that even
back in those days it was possible for boys to have toy locomotives
that really whistled or smoked, but some of Mr. Ives’ locomotives
would do these things. Away back in 1874 he invented a toy locomotive
that would whistle as it ran along, and later he made one that
would really smoke! This was done by means of an arrangement whereby
a lighted cigarette could be concealed inside the smokestack,
and the smoke would be puffed out by means of a special connection
with the clockwork motor.
In the 1880’s Ives started making many toys of cast
iron. As time went on, they made more and more out of this
material. Some were clockwork powered, but others were designed
to be pulled or pushed along. There were iron horse-drawn
fire engines of all kinds – drays, express wagons,
Hansom cabs, ice wagons, coal trucks, locomotives and trains,
and many others.
Ives made so many different types of toys at this time that
it is just impossible to tell about all of them. In fact, it seems
they made almost every type of toy that was produced at this time.
Many of them they made first, before anyone else, and many of
their toys were copied by other toymakers. Among the toys which
Ives made in the 1880’s and 1890’s, besides the clockwork
and iron toys of the kind already described, were working steam
engines and boats, cap pistols, cannon, games, sewing machines,
balls, and banks. But first the clockwork toys, then the iron
toys, and always the locomotives and cars were the most important
toys of all.
Edward Ives’ son, Harry, grew up, he too went to work
in the toy business. In many ways he was like his father,
and he also invented many new and wonderful kinds of toys.
There was one very important thing that both Edward and
Harry Ives always insisted on. They would not make cheap,
shoddy toys. Every toy they made had to be constructed of
the finest materials and with the best workmanship possible.
They would not make anything which was not the very best
in every way. They would rather stop making a toy than have
to make it in cheap, poor form. Often, if one of their toys
was copied in a poor duplicate by somebody else they would
simply stop making the toy themselves.
Because of this, by the late 1890’s, Ives was making mostly
iron toys. Many of their fine clockwork toys had been cheaply
copied in Germany, and they were not making them any longer. To
look at an old Ives catalog is to take a wonderful trip into toyland
and marvel at all the wonderful toys this famous old company turned
out. Those who have studied the subject carefully say they are
justly called America’s greatest toymakers. Recently a great
newspaper, in remembering the famous old Ives toys, said that
“Mr. Ives” was “better known than Santa Claus
One of the most interesting toys made by Ives in the 1890’s
was a toy fire house. It was made of wood, with cast iron doors
and windows, and looked just like the old-time fire houses seen
in Bridgeport and other cities. It contained a clockwork mechanism
and bell. When the clockwork was wound up and started, nothing
would happen for a little while. Then the alarm bell would ring
the call to the imaginary firemen – once, then twice, and
then four times – a 1-2-4 alarm! Then the iron doors suddenly
would fly open and the little Ives iron toy fire engine would
rush out as it came down a little incline!
before Christmas in 1900 there came a sad day for Edward
and Harry Ives when the real fire engines in Bridgeport
were called out of their engine houses to answer an alarm.
The Ives factory was on fire! No one knew how the fire started,
but it was a big fire, and soon all the fire engines in
Bridgeport rushed to help put it out, their strong horses
galloping down the streets to bring the steam fire engines
to the fire as soon as possible. Before the brave firemen
had the fire under control the Ives factory was destroyed.
Tens of thousands of boys were made happy that Christmas
by the Ives toys they received, but it was a very sad Christmas
indeed for Edward and Harry Ives.
Some people thought that it would mean the end of Ives toys
when they heard of the fire, but not the Iveses. They started
looking around right away for factory space where they could start
making toys again, and soon found some room in another building.
It was there that they started making their most famous toys of
all, the Ives miniature trains. These new toy trains, which they
began making in 1901, ran on tracks, and had all the equipment
of the real ones. There were all sorts of freight and passenger
cars, and stations, switches, signals, bridges, and tunnels. The
first trains of the new Ives Miniature Railway System were clockwork
powered. In 1910 they started making electric trains as well.
train made by the Ives Manufacturing Company was considered
to form a division of the Ives Railway Lines, and the boy
who owned it was a Division Superintendent. Each year new
and improved model locomotives, cars, and accessories were
added for the building of a complete miniature railroad
system. Many of them were invented or designed by Harry
Ives, who took especial interest in the trains. But Edward
Ives, although now an old man, kept coming to the factory
every day to still help make the trains and toys. He loved
to sit and test some of the little locomotive motors that
would go out to his young friends to haul trains on their
divisions of the Ives Railway Lines. He would always work
on the clockwork trains, which he liked better than the
Then one day not too long before Christmas, 1918, old Mr. Ives
did not come to the factory. He had made Ives toys for just fifty
years, but now the man who had made so many children happy had
been called away from the scene of the work he loved so much.
And when some little boys heard that Mr. Ives had died, they cried,
for they knew they had lost a real friend.
His son, Harry C. Ives, carried on the business alone for a
time, and it kept growing all the time. It was in the 1920’s
that some of the finest Ives trains were made. Harry Ives was
now the Mr. Ives, and many are the stories told of his kindness
and generosity, and his continued insistence that every toy that
bore the famous name “Ives” be just as fine as it
was possible to make it.
a result, in some ways the 1920’s were a golden age
of toy trains. Many of the most popular features of modern
toy electric trains, such as remote control reverse, were
perfected by Ives designers at that time. Just as important
as the trains themselves, was the friendly way the Ives
Company looked upon the young owners of their products and
always made them all seem a part of one big happy family.
Thousands and thousands of boys who were Ives Railway Lines
operators have never forgotten the great days when Edward
and Harry Ives made toys.