Dinky Toys and H. Hudson Dobson (1891-1975) – Part II

By Terry Hardgrave

Continued from Part I.


Henry and Helen Dobson lived out their remaining years in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with Helen passing away in September, 1967, followed by Henry Dobson in September 1975, and thus the end of a long era. Henry Hudson Dobson’s long association with Meccano stretched for nearly 47 years. I also noted that on one of the U.S. Census forms, it asked when he immigrated to the U.S. He answered in 1913…..the same year that Meccano set up an office in the U.S. So here is my overall assumption and summary of his career with Meccano Ltd.:

1913 He is hired by Meccano Ltd. on the pretense of agreeing to immigrate to the U.S. to open up and run an import office, which will be located in New York City. He apparently lives in New York until around 1921, when he relocates, with his family, to Elizabeth, New Jersey.

1917 Henry Dobson enlists in the Royal Flying Corps, in Toronto, Canada, on October 2, 1917

1918 Henry Dobson is discharged from the Royal Flying Corps, to accept a temporary commission in the Royal Air Force, on May 22, 1918. No other information, but WWI is over on November 11, 1918, so would assume he left the service around that time.

1922 Meccano Ltd. has decided to open up an manufacturing facility in the United States for the purpose of fabricating Meccano Construction sets, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Why New Jersey we do not know, as their office was in New York. By then, Henry is married and has started his family, and he has already moved to New Jersey and is involved in the operation there.

1928 Meccano Ltd. made a decision to sell or transfer the U.S. rights to the Meccano sets to the A.C. Gilbert Company, and abandons making the product in the U.S. Henry Dobson has a family to support, so shortly after finds employment as President of the Fleuron Pottery company, in North Tonawanda, New York. It is possible that he is still representing Meccano Ltd. in some lesser capacity.

1931 Henry Dobson applies for Naturalization, in New York, in 1931.

1933 Henry Dobson and his family leave North Tonawanda, New York, and return to Elizabeth, New Jersey, presumably to return working fulltime for Meccano Ltd., who are ready to introduce a new line of toys (Modelled Miniatures, and shortly later, Dinky Toys)

1935 Meccano Ltd. introduces Dinky Toys and they already have an office in New York City, called the Meccano Company of America, Inc. At least by 1933, H. Hudson Dobson has been back working for them, in the office in New York City, which is now importing the new toy lines. In 1937 he sails once again to England to meet with Meccano staff.

1938 or earlier. A decision has been made for Henry Dobson to form the H. Hudson Dobson Company, for the express purpose of being the sole U.S. distributor for Meccano Ltd. and Dinky Toys. It is not clear if Henry Dobson financed this venture himself, or if Meccano Ltd. owned a piece of it. Having a separate import agent will likely allow Meccano a wider distribution of Dinky Toys throughout the U.S. and also with someone who understand the retail marketing there. At some point in time, I am guessing after WWII, H. Hudson Dobson became a corporation.

1941-1945 During these war years, Meccano Ltd., and virtually all other toy manufacturers cease production, and instead, help with producing items vital for the war effort. There will be few toys to even sell. We have no idea what H. Hudson Dobson does during this time frame, or what his ongoing relationship with Meccano Ltd. consisted of.

1938 (or earlier)-1950 H. Hudson Dobson, Inc., is located in New York, New York.

1951-1952 H. Hudson Dobson, Inc., is located in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

1953-1960 H. Hudson Dobson, Inc. is located in Kenilworth, New Jersey.

1946-1959 The post war years were generally very good ones for Meccano Ltd. and H. Hudson Dobson, with sales particularly very good in the mid-1950’s. But by 1959, the market has changed considerably, with increased competition from many other toy manufacturers and Meccano is increasingly unable to adapt, and their market share and profit drops dramatically. Some toy stores in the U.S. are not selling Dinky Toys any longer and selling off their existing stock. Henry Hudson Dobson is now 68 years old, and his Dinky Toys importing business has fallen off the last two years. He sails to Liverpool one last time in January, to discuss winding down his affairs with Meccano Ltd. This will be the last year he is listed on the U.S. catalog, and my last piece of correspondence with H. Hudson Dobson is dated May, 1960.

So it appears that sometime in the latter part of 1960 his business relationship with Meccano Ltd. ends, and H. Hudson Dobson, Inc. ceases to exist.

Some Final Thoughts

The big surprise to me, at least, is that apparently he worked for or had an association with Meccano Ltd. for well over twenty years before Dinky Toys were even introduced. He also made fourteen trips by ship and one by airplane, to England, during his lifetime. I do not think many people in the Dinky Toys community had any knowledge of these facts.

Very telling is that Henry Dobson does not make any trips from New York to Liverpool between 1926 and 1937. This is a strong indication that after the Meccano operation closed in New Jersey, he had at best a minimal position with Meccano, and had to augment his income by working elsewhere from 1928 until 1933.

In addition to researching Henry Dobson, I also decided to take another look at the founder of Meccano Ltd., Frank Hornby. In doing so, I was astounded to discover that he also made many sailing trips to New York, starting in 1912 with the last being in 1930. There was another trip scheduled for 1935, but was cancelled, I am sure due to ill health, as he died shortly after. In all, Frank Hornby made sixteen trips to New York, mostly by himself, with his wife on a few, and son Roland on only one.

In preparing this, I was able to track down a descendent of Henry Dobson, a grand nephew, living in the U.S. He and others of his age knew of Henry Dobson and had visited at his home in New Jersey as a child, but knew nothing of the business, other than he had imported Dinky Toys. Sadly, only the one picture of him remains. Henry’s oldest son, Henry Hudson Dobson Jr., appears to have worked in some capacity in his father’s company, from 1951-1960, and later moved to Texas, where he died in 1999. The younger son, James Dobson, was listed in a New Jersey directory in the 1950’s as a salesman for H. Hudson Dobson, Inc. He died in 1975, and did not appear to be much of a factor in the business. Sadly, none of Henry Dobson’s three children are living to help uncover more of this story.

Most of this, the timeline portion, is based on known facts, but what exactly happened and why is based on assumptions that make sense to me. It would be great if others have facts or information to either add to or refute what I have found. Other catalog references or pre-war boxes that can add information to this are most welcome. The Dinky Toys or Meccano archives in Liverpool would be wonderful to research to see if there is any mention of H. Hudson Dobson and his role with Meccano. For a man who spent most of his life associated with the company, there is precious little left to share.

Sources and Acknowledgments

Ancestry.com U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2005

Ancestry.com 1920 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2012

Ancestry.com 1930 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2012

Ancestry.com 1940 United States Federal Census. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2012

Ancestry.com New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1960. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2010

Ancestry.com 1911 England Census. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011

Ancestry.com U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011

Ancestry.com U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014. Provo, UT., USA. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011

usmecanno.com website titled “Meccano in the United States”

Dinky Toys catalogs and original H. Hudson Dobson correspondence from the personal collection of Terry Hardgrave

Fold3.com U.K., Royal Air Force Airmen Records 1918-1940

Fold3.com New York Western-Naturalization Index

Several newspaper clippings discovered on the internet, by Skip Johnson and myself, related to Henry Hudson Dobson……thanks for any and all contributions.

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