If you’re like most collectors, you probably got your start going to antique malls, garage sales, and flea markets. Most of the time, you’d come across old decorative glass wear, rusty tools, and a bunch of Beanie Babies, and if you did, you’d probably roll your eyes and keep pressing forward in your quest, but occasionally, if you were lucky, you’d stumble upon some real antique toys. If you did, more often than not, you’d probably come across Ideal’s Mr. Machine and if you were extra lucky, once wound it up, it actually worked. If you were really, really, really, really extra lucky, it worked well and moved faster than that Sloth in Zootopia.
Manufactured originally by Ideal Toy Company in 1960, Mr. Machine was the brainchild of Marvin Glass (1914 – 1974), a toy designer who headed his own toy design company based in Chicago called Marvin Glass and Associates. According to Wikipedia, Marvin Glass was responsible for such popular toys as Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Lite Brite, Ants in the Pants, Mouse Trap, Operation, Simon, Body Language, and the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle.
The story behind Mr. Machine is that Mr. Glass designed this robot wonder after his wife kept telling him that he was working too hard and that he was working like a machine. Inspired by his wife, he created an 18 inch tall wind-up robot in which after you wound it up, wheels underneath it would move simultaneously with its feet, creating the illusion that it was walking. Mr. Machine would also sway its arms while it walked, and every so often, would produce an “Ah” sound, as if it were actually speaking. In fact, Mr. Machine’s mouth actually opened and closed when it did this, thereby adding to the realism of Mr. Machine speaking when it walked.
In 1960, Ideal released its Mr. Machine to the American public and it caught on instantly. Children were mesmerized by its giant wind-up key, its top hat, but more importantly, its transparent body. Unlike other robot or wind up toys in which the body was a solid color, Mr. Machine’s body was clear, so you could see all of the plastic gears and wheels moving after you wound it up and it began to move. This transparency was the marketing gimmick that put Mr. Machine on the map. For children and adults alike, winding up Mr. Machine and seeing him glide across the floor was amazing because it was like watching the insides of a ticking clock, or in this case, a real automaton come to life.
Furthermore, Mr. Machine was packaged as a building kit that contained 44 individual pieces and a toy wrench. The children would have to assemble Mr. Machine with this wrench and put him together from scratch, very much as if that boy or girl would then imagine that they were Mr. Glass, the inventor himself, and was putting Mr. Machine together.
Due to its popularity, Ideal Toy company reissued Mr. Machine both in 1978 and 1987 with some slight alterations. Eventually, the Poof-Slinky Company then reissued the original 1960 version in 2004.
With so many releases, I’m sure at one point in your life you’ve been able to catch a glance of Mr. Machine in the wild, and you may have even been fortunate enough to bag a Mr. Machine and bring it home with you.
Attached is an image of my own Mr. Machine.
Did you ever own a Mr. Machine? Do you have any good stories or memories about your Mr. Machine? Have any pics you’d like to share? Please share with us your thoughts and experiences.