We’ve had cap and BB guns on the brain for the last few weeks, getting this weekend’s dual auction sessions for you all! Part of that has been getting reacquainted with the various manufacturing companies that made these vintage treasures. We thought we’d take a bit of a stroll through the history of these All-American toy (and more) companies.
The Daisy Manufacturing Company of Plymouth, MI
We thought we’d start off by looking at the company closest to home for us! Founded in 1886 as the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company. They were set to go out of business in January of 1888 – hard to transport giant iron windmills without trucks – when a member of the board pitched them a new idea. He owned himself a side-hustle, the Plymouth Air Rifle Company. It manufactured wooden air rifles, the standard at the time, but he had an idea for an all-metal version. He just didn’t have the furnaces or machinery to mass produce them. The board tested the prototype and a member exclaimed “Boy, it’s a daisy!” The name stuck.
The Plymouth Iron Windmill Company planned to sell the gun as premium value-add for their windmills but it proved an instant hit. By 1895, it had become popular enough that the company ceased production of windmills entirely. Renamed the Daisy Manufacturing Company, they were all toy guns all the time. At their height, they were famous for their licensed BB guns based on Winchester Rifles and the Red Ryder comic strip. The BB gun that Ralphie was gonna shoot his eye out with? Daisy made it right here in Metro Detroit!
The company moved its operations to Rogers, Arkansas in 1958. It’s still around today, as Daisy Outdoor Products, and still makes the Red Ryder BB Gun.
The Hubley Manufacturing Company of Lancaster, PA
John Hubley got into cast iron manufacturing in 1894. It took fifteen years for them to get into the toy business, but they quickly dominated it when they did. Hubley toys were famed, even in their day, for their intricacy. Steam shovels with working parts, trucks complete with tools, motorcycles with sidecars, etc. And from the jump, they were makers of cap guns. For twenty years, the company produced cast iron toys that were a cut above the rest. By the time the 40s rolled in, they had gotten on board with the latest in toymaking technology: die-cast.
Hubley would continue to do quite well for itself into the 1960s. In addition to toys, they produced home goods like doorstops and bookends. Heck, by the 60s they were even dabbling in plastic car dealer promo cars! Hubley was truly making something for every member of the family. And that, ultimately, was the problem. Much like Marvel Comics would do in the 1990s, the company spread itself way too thin across too many industries and rendered itself unprofitable. By 1969, the Hubley Manufacturing Company would be no more. Its toy cars and models lived on at other manufacturers into the 80s, but as far as we can tell the cap guns went into the ground with Hubley itself.
Today, Hubley’s toys remain highly prized by toy collectors. They truly were a cut above most of their competitors back in the day.
The Kilgore Manufacturing Company of Westerville, OH
Joseph D. Kilgore founded the company in 1912 with the specific aim of producing cast iron cap guns. In particular, it was set apart from companies like Hubley because Kilgore also manufactured the caps the guns fired. First on paper strips and later in little standalone containers, even if you didn’t have a Kilgore cap gun you were probably firing their caps. Vertical integration for the win!
In 1918, Kilgore Manufacturing moved from Homestead, PA to Westerville, OH. The goal was to expand the business. See, they were already the largest cap gun manufacturer in the game at the time. Where do you go from there? Well, you’ve got the chemicals that make a shelf-stable flash and bang. Why not start making stuff that goes bang for real? In 1929, the company opened its International Flare-Signal Division in Tippecanoe City, OH. When America entered World War II, they turned their operations to military pyrotechnics. They had two plants, one on their side of the highway. On the north side, they still made cap guns and caps for children. On the south side, they made real weapon. After the war, the company briefly and unsuccessfully made an attempt to take over production of the legendary Thompson Submachine Gun. They ultimately stuck to what they knew best.
For a while, anyways. Kilgore stopped producing cap guns and caps in the late 80s. They’re still around today, as Kilgore Flares LLC. British chemical conglomerate Chemring bought Kilgore in 2001, meaning they’re no longer an “all-American” company. Even so, they’re still a top name in the safety flare game and it all started with paper strips that went “bang”.
Mementos of a Bygone Era
A whole bunch of cap guns from Hubley and Kilgore, plus some Daisy Air Rifles, come to auction this Friday and Saturday! They are mementos of a different era of toymaking – when safety wasn’t as big a concern and real metal was the material of choice. If you have a collection of vintage toys and need some advice, we can help you! As our two cap gun sessions demonstrate, we’ve got the expertise to identify your gear, build an auction, and make sure the right audience finds it. And if you want a comment or quote on something we’ve written about, we’re always available! We can be found almost everywhere in the social media sphere as @b2pcollect.