• Michael Sue

DURHAM INDUSTRIES: KING OF THE KNOCK OFFS

Updated: Aug 29

Like any avid robot collector, if you did a search on Ebay looking for “Vintage Robots,” I’m sure you’d come across the following robot:




1979 Cyclops Robot 2500


or this Zeroid-like robot:


Duham’s 19y8 Sidewinder Robot


or this little orange robot?


If you did so, you probably noticed the manufacturer and brand name on each toy was Durham Industries.  In doing so, you may have even noticed that the asking price for such toys is usually a lot lower than those of similar vintage robots.  The reason for this is because many of the toys from Durham Industries were considered knock-offs for the time period.  And so, even though they were knock-offs then, they’re still knock-offs now, which would account for the lower asking price.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese robots, such as Horikawa from Japan, were extremely popular in the U.S.  I, myself, was born in 1978, and I remember growing up with at least two of them. Each of them was your standard battery operated robot whose chest would open up and then spin around with a rat-a-tat-tat sound coming from its chest, except one of them had a black head that was shaped like a Storm Trooper.

Anyway, like any product that is popular with the public, you’ll soon see copycats.  Accordingly, Durham Industries, based in New York, NY, emerged into the forefront during the 1960s and 1970s by becoming a large importer of toys, most of which were from Hong Kong.   In the U.S., Hong Kong, at least back then, didn’t have the best reputation of having a quality product.  Accordingly, many of the toys that Durham Industries imported to the U.S. from Hong Kong, including its robots, had a reputation as being inferior and copycats of the original brands, despite being less expensive. In fact, in January 1979, counsel for Tomy Corporation, which, as you may recall, had introduced its Tomy the Omini Robot line (seen below)


TOMY OMNIBOT RX 5402 ROBOT


had made formal allegations against Durham Industries for intentionally copying its toy designs and threatened legal action against them if that did not cease and desist.  In response, Durham Industries filed an action in federal court in New York asking the Court to declare that none of its toys had violated any of Tomy’s intellectual property rights in its toys.  In the end, after Tomy filed several counterclaims against Durham formalizing its accusations against Durham, the federal court actually dismissed Tomy’s counterclaims.

Despite Durham Industries win in this case against Tomy Corporation, Durham Industries continued to maintain its reputation of distributing cheap knock off toys from Hong Kong.

Eventually, due to new toy competitors, toy innovations, and shifts in toy demand and popularity, robot toys, such as the Horikawa from the 1960s and 1970s, weren’t as popular anymore, being replaced with different kinds of robot toys, such as the Transformers and GoBots from the 1980s.

Still, Durham Industries should still be recognized and acknowledged as having earned its place in robot toy history as being a major contributor of robot toys in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s, and for introducing the American marketplace to Hong Kong manufactured robots.

Personally, although Durham robots may look similar to some of the other robot brands from the 1960s and 1970s, and may have a reputation for being a knock-off, they are still pretty cool in my book and they function just as well as any Horikawa.   Although some purists may disagree, to me, a robot toy is a robot toy.  Unlike a gold Rolex watch, which may turn your wrist green from the fake gold, there is no such comparison or danger when it comes to a robot “knock-off.”   When it comes to toys, even knock-off can be works of high functional art.

In fact, you may even have owned a Durham toy at one point and not even known about it.  Do you remember owning any Durham robot toys growing up?  Do you own one now?  Please share your pic(s) with us!

Want to read more about Durham Industries?  Please check out our original article located at:

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