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Brown Box Era HO-Scale Trains
TYCO History

TYCO ad from late '50s

This history of TYCO focuses, as does this website, on the company's model train offerings. 
John Tyler began offering model trains from the birth of the HO-scale format, 1/87 the size of actual trains, under the Mantua name. In the 1950s, Tyler Manufacturing Company or TYCO arrived on the scene. This '50s product line is often known to collectors as "the blue-box era." TYCO offered kit versions and later ready-to-run(RTR) versions of various steam and early diesel era model trains in a light-blue packaging.

During the 1960s, the TYCO line added HO-scale slot racing cars. The HO-scale train line saw growth and expansion during the time too. The '60s product line is generally dubbed "the red-box era." Items from this time period are found in red TYCO boxes.

Consolidated Foods purchased TYCO's model trains and HO-scale slot racing cars around 1970.  Consolidated Foods would later change its name to Sara Lee. This early '70s period ushers in "The Consolidated Foods Era" or "brown-box" period for collectors. Prior to 1970, TYCO offered models that reflected fairly accurate prototypes. After 1970, under Consolidated Foods leadership, TYCO's offerings wander into a fantasy world of unprototypical models. It is this interesting period that provides modelers and collectors with such items as a Popsicle and StarKist Tuna box cars and various Bicentennial locomotives. Looked down upon by serious hobbyists, these items none the less have found favor among those who enjoyed them as kids and now enjoy collecting them as adults. 
The Consolidated Foods purchase of TYCO did not enjoy much of a honeymoon period.   The book, "Toyland" by Sydney Ladensohn Stern and Ted Schoenhaus, reports TYCO's returns were unprofitable by 1972 and Consolidated Foods/Sara Lee was put in the position of folding up the TYCO line or making major changes in operations.  Consolidated Foods management remained positive on TYCO and placed Dick Grey as president and Harry Pearce as chief financial officer in 1973.

TYCO PowerTorque Truck and Logo

Grey and Pearce brought TYCO back into the black by the late '70s.  Consolidated Foods sold TYCO in 1981 for $18.6 million to Savoy Industries.  During this time, TYCO's train line was becoming even more outlandish to the model railroader with items like "The A-Team" and "Rambo" train sets. The line in general also was shrinking in total variety of products offered. 
The appeal of model trains was dropping and TYCO's management began to look for new product lines for the company.  The company added the "US-1 Trucking" slot trucks to its line in 1981. The '80s also saw TYCO diversify into such things as "Super Blocks," which were similar and compatible with LEGO blocks. The company also began offering telephones; remote-control vehicles; and other items beyond the model train line.  These changes in product line see the model train category down to 60% of TYCO's sales by 1986.

In early 1986, Savoy Industries put TYCO stock on the open market generating $13.4 million and ending Savoy's involvement in the toy company.

The early '90s saw the demise of TYCO's train line, its last catalog appearance is in the 1993 TYCO catalog. Production during these final years is quite different from what had been previously. Mehano, a foreign manufacturer, begins supplying product about this time. This leads to some interesting odd pieces. For example, I have a "Rock Island Express"(No.7403) train set from the early 1990s. The front of the box shows the Shark Nose pulling the train. The sides of the box show an F-9A, and not TYCO's original F-9 either, in command of the train. Finally, once the box is open you have an Alco FA as power for the train. Confusing to say the least! This adds another dimension to collecting TYCO offerings and cataloging their product line.

IHC-International Hobby Corporation ended up with ownership of some remnants of this famous line of toy trains. An example of the IHC involvement in the remnants of the TYCO line may be found in the IHC ad in the September 1995 MODEL RAILROADER magazine. On page 51 of that issue of MR, you'll find IHC advertising a "CLOSEOUT on TYCO." Examples of the TYCO items being offered then includes the GP-20 in BN listed with a retail of $44.98 -closeout priced by IHC for $7.98. Additionally, IHC lists the Alco 430 in USA Express and the Super 630 in Santa Fe. Also found are a number of odd TYCO items including Operating Accessories and various track pieces.

In the years since TYCO exited the HO-scale train market, IHC has offered various former TYCO locos, kits and cars in new packaging and new roadnames. An example is IHC re-tooling and re-issue of the old TYCO SD-24 in the fall of 2004.  IHC ceased operating in 2009 and the former TYCO molds have not returned to market.  Model Power via its ownership of Mantua's toolings returned the GP20 to market in 2009.

Sources for the TYCO company history provided include:

Ladensohn Stern, Sydney and Ted Schoenhaus. Toyland: The High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry. Chicaog: Contemporary Books, 1990.