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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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ERTL COMPANY INC. In 1945 Frederick ERTL began making toy tractors in the furnace of his home. He was a journeyman molder at ADAMS COMPANY (Encyclopedia Dubuque) that was temporarily idled by a strike. With a wife and five sons to support, he started taking defective aluminum aircraft pistons and melting them down. He poured this aluminum into sand molds and started making toy tractors.

By 1946, the business moved to a 1,040 square foot building in Dubuque.

Ertl's sand-cast tractor for Deere and Company was the company's first boxed toy.

By 1947 Ertl was incorporated and moved into a larger 11,000 square foot building. Mr. Ertl met with executives of Deere and Company and received approval to produce toy tractors with the John Deere name. In 1952 the first John Deere toy tractor produced was a die-cast Model "A".

In 1959, Ertl built a larger facility in Dyersville and moved all production to that location.

The Ertl family sold the company to Victor Comptometer. In 1977, Victor Comptometer sold the business to Kidde & Co. In 1987, Hanson PLC, a leveraged buyout firm managed by Lord James Hanson and Lord James White, purchased Kidde. Hanson PLC incurred a significant corporate debt. In 1995, it ‘demerged’ its debt-laden U.S. holdings into a separate corporation called U.S. Industries. (1)

Hanson PLC had opened a toy factory in Tijuana, Mexico in 1983 that was used only half the year. In the fall of 1995, with the recently passed NAFTA trade agreement guaranteeing they could bring products into the U.S. tariff-free, U.S. Industries announced it was moving 300 jobs, more than a quarter of its Ertl payroll, from Dyersville, IA to Tijuana, Mexico. 1995 was a difficult year for Ertl and the Dyersville community. The company lost $6 million and the community lost 300 jobs. In 1996 however, Ertl contributed the biggest improvement to earnings at U.S. Industries, generating a $3 million profit. (2)

In April of 1997, the Ertl Company strengthened its presence in the European market by acquiring Petite, Ltd. and its associated brands. This 150-year-old British company, based in Nottingham, England, was a leading manufacturer of military soldier collectibles, plastic and die cast metal farm toys, figures, animals, buildings and plastic preschool toys.

In February 1998, Ertl brought its Web site, www.Ertltoys.com online. On April 14, 1999, Racing Champions Corp. acquired Ertl for $105 million in cash. (3)

By 1980, Ertl produced close to one million die-cast tractor items annually. In 1982, Ertl's line consisted of over 60 different John Deere items alone. In the following twenty years, Ertl—now RC2—produced over 58 million die-cast tractors and implements. (1) ERTL toys ranged in scale from 1/87 up to 1/12. Most pieces are designed to be played with, however, 'Precision Classics' and certain other items are better suited for adult collectors. (2)

Ertl's later tractors were machine made to allow movable parts.
Wheels and metal parts were manufactured in Dubuque by Joseph Carter.

The 1948 Dubuque Classified Business Directory listed 1985 Asbury.

The 1957 Dubuque City Directory listed 2475 Ertl Lane.



1. Power, D. J. and Roth, R. M. "Ertl's Decision Support Journey." dssresources.com/cases/ertl.html‎

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. "The Ertl Company." http://www.rcertl.com/history.asp

5. Ertl Toys. www.3000toys.com/brands/ertl.html‎