It was Iowa’s version of the North Pole. “Sure! Santa Claus Has His Headquarters in Iowa,” is how the Davenport Democrat and Leader described the operation on Nov. 26, 1939. “Two Shifts Busy in Clinton Factory Turning Out Toys.”
The newspaper was describing the toy-making operations of Rich Manufacturing Co., which thrived in Clinton, Iowa, from the early 1930s to the early 1950s.
In an abandoned furniture factory on Clinton’s Bluff Boulevard, the company turned out a variety of doll houses, doll house furniture, trains, boats and many other wooden toys.
The company was founded in 1921 by brothers M.E. Rich and E.M. Rich, who formed Rich Enterprises to make truck bodies in an old barn in Sterling, Ill. Two years later, the company added a line of small pull toys, novelty canes, racing cars and other toys under the name Rich Toys. The company moved to Morrison, Ill., where it manufactured ice refrigerators as well as toys from 1928 until 1934, when it sold its refrigeration business and moved to Clinton to focus on toys.
In November 1939, the Democrat reported, Rich Manufacturing had 275 employees working in the manufacture of doll house furniture, toys and games “and scores of other things which delight the heart of juvenile America.”
The workload kept the factory humming.
“Two shifts are working with a partial third shift to take care of Santa’s orders for the Christmas season … Most of the toys go to the big eastern markets for distribution all over America. Display rooms are maintained in New York City and San Francisco,” the newspaper stated.
The business continued to grow in Clinton under the sons of the founders. During World War II, the company made rifle stocks and then reorganized as Rich Industries Inc. to produce ammunition boxes.
After the war, Rich focused on expanding its line of toys. In 1947, the company introduced a line of plastic rocking horses. Two years later, it began making plastic spring-suspension hobby horses.
The company’s profits increased steadily from 1948 to 1952, thanks to heavy volume in the sales of the rocking and spring horse lines. At the same time, doll house sales declined due to competition from cheaper, lithographed metal doll houses.
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At the end of 1953, the company ended its manufacturing operations in Clinton and moved to Tupelo, Miss., where the ownership built a new plant to take advantage of the labor supply and the reduced shipping costs of lumber it had obtained in the Deep South.
In addition to toys, Rich made wood ammunition boxes and folding tables for the U.S. Army, water skis, boat paddles and wood lamp bases in Mississippi until a severe flood in 1962 destroyed the plant.
Rich’s old factory building in Clinton survives today as a warehouse, and several Rich Toys are on display at the Clinton County Historical Museum, 601 S. 1st St. The telephone number is (563) 242-1201. A history of the company, written by two sons of M.E. Rich, can be found on the Web at Judy’s Old Wood Toys, www. oldwoodtoys.com/rich_toys.htm.
John Willard can be contacted at (563) 383-2314 or email@example.com.