While sipping our morning coffee last weekend, Telstar Logistics noticed an item in Saturday's Wall Street Journal marking the life and times of Jack Odell, the man who invented the classic Matchbox line of toy cars. Mr. Odell died on July 7, at age 87. A self-taught tool and die maker, Mr. Odell was a stickler for detail -- a trait that clearly carried over to his work on Matchbox vehicles. From the Wall Street Journal's remembrance:
Jack Odell became the founder and chief designer of Matchbox, the iconic miniature toys that have entertained car-crazy kids for half a century.
After creating a miniature steamroller for his young daughter, who wanted something that would fit into a matchbox to show her classmates, Mr. Odell -- who died last Saturday at age 87 in Herfordshire, England -- realized he had stumbled upon a product that the company he co-owned, struggling Lesney Products, could sell.
After producing such early models as a cement mixer and a dump truck, the company had its first hit with a miniature of Queen Elizabeth II's horse-drawn golden coach -- produced in the year of her coronation, 1953. More than a million of the coaches sold for the equivalent of about 40 cents in U.S. currency at the time; online today, they sell for hundreds of dollars. [...]
Mr. Odell, who left school at age 13, held odd jobs before enlisting in the Army, where he repaired fighting vehicles during World War II and had a profitable sideline of repairing Primus stoves.
Meanwhile, a pair of unrelated ex-servicemen named Smith -- Leslie and Rodney -- founded Lesney in 1947 in a bombed-out London pub called The Rifleman. The pair struggled to find die-making work for electrical sockets and other products. Soon, they brought in Mr. Odell, and Rodney Smith sold his stake and left the company.
When Lesney went public in 1960 it was producing one million cars a week. Production eventually rose to one million a day, and employed about 6,000. "We produce more Rolls-Royces in a single day than the Rolls-Royce company has made in its entire history," Mr. Odell told the New York Times in 1962.
His eye for detail and abilities as a die-cutter led to realistic dashboard dials and hoods and trunks that opened. Car companies, sensing free advertising, eagerly provided blueprints to ensure accurate reproduction. Clad in a white apron and sporting a close-trimmed mustache, Mr. Odell could be found checking on quality on the factory floor.
It's no exaggeration to say that Mr. Odell played a formative role in shaping (warping?) the world-view of Telstar Logistics during our startup years, and this blog is but a symptom of his influence. For that we remain forever grateful. So as Mr. Odell continues his metaphysical journey, we say, "Thank you and Happy Motoring!"
Jack Odell, Matchbox toymaker (Obiturary from independent.co.uk)
Matchbox toys (Wikipedia page)
Frank's Matchbox Lesney Page (Extensive Matchbox photos, history, and links)
Matchbox Cars 1-37 (An excellent photo gallery of early Matchbox cars)
Matchbox.com (Official website by Mattell, Inc.)
(Images: Top: 1960s Matchbox cars, from the Telstar Logistics Executive Collection. Middle: Original Matchbox steamroller, 1953(?), image from Mattell, Inc. Bottom: Jack Odell, circa 1968, image from Elizabeth Odell)