Toymaker Jack Odell rolls out

One of my favorite toys as a child was a Matchbox car Batmobile. Our backyard had an old Elm Tree that had roots coming out of the ground. I would dig under the roots and make a little “bat-cave” for the small auto to barrel out of. I had little soldiers that Batman would run over or shoot thread I had borrowed from my mother’s sewing basket to make a net around the villains. All this while humming the Batman theme.batmobile

I loved that car. I carried it to church, grandma’s and to bed, as I dreamed of sitting next to Batman in my Robin costume as we fought the Joker or Riddler.

I don’t know what happened to that Matchbox car. I must have moved on as many kids do as you get the Captain Action doll with a Batman or Spiderman costume he could dress in.

I have photographs of me and that car with a towel around my neck as a cape.

I found out that I have to thank Jack Odell for inventing that Matchbox line of toys.

He help defined toys that were mainly used by boys but the truth is that the origin of the Matchbox cars lay with a little girl.

Jack Odell’s daughter Anne had a nasty habit of bringing beetles, bugs and spiders to school in a matchbox. The kids never knew what was inside the days she would bring one in. One day in 1952, Jack decided to give her something different, and less scary, to take in her box that normally stored matches. He fashioned a tiny model of a road-roller, crafted in brass and painted red and green. Anne’s schoolmates must have gasped in wonder as she slid it open. This was the humble beginnings of one of the greatest toymaker.

Jack Odell was gifted casting engineer who had honed his craft in factories on the outskirts of London. During 1947 Odell had joined a small die-casting company called Lesney Products.

Owner Leslie Smith and Odell churned out any small cast components their customers wanted. But one order for parts for a toy gun would determine their company’s destiny.

In Odell, the company had a skilled model-maker and, as it happened, vehicle enthusiast. He set to and designed a range of cast-metal playthings, from a horse-drawn milk cart to a pocket-sized press that could turn bread into fishing bait.  Realizing, thanks to Anne Odell, that they had yet another promising novelty, in 1953 Smith and Odell launched a range of finely detailed “Matchbox” toy vehicles, sold in tiny cardboard boxes that really were at matchbox-size.

By 1960, they were turning out a million toy vehicles a day, and the company was awarded the Queen’s Award for Export three times.

Odell retired in 1973 and then made his own company in 1983 which he called Lledo. With a range of die-cast models called “Days Gone” aimed at the collectors’ market rather than children.

Jack Odell took his Final Taxi this week.

I need to do a ebay search and find that Matchbox Batmobile. I wonder if I could get a little die-cast taxi in black as well?

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One Response

  1. I had a matchbox Batmobile car….and played for hours with them outside in the dirt with my brother. We wore towels around our necks for capes and argued who was Batman and who was Robin. Occassionally I would feel Catwoman was a better choice…HA.

    And wowie, I can’t remember the last time I even heard anyone mention Captain Action… Our figurine died a death from Blackcat firecrackers as I recall.

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