Hartland Plastics is probably most known for their Western Horse and Riders and their line of Sports figures, but they actually produced a wide variety of plastic figures and advertising pieces. As a matter of fact, they started out making steering wheels in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s and eventually began making gag novelty sculptures such as the “Kilroy Was Here” figure. Some of those early pieces might be politically unacceptable by today’s standards but they illustrated the company’s early interest in diversifying and trying new markets.
By the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Hartland Plastics also started producing a large variety of Religious figures and Nativity scenes, many of which could be purchased through popular mail order companies such as Sears, J.C. Penneys and Montgomery Wards. At some point, probably near the end of the ‘40s Hartland was contracted to do a 12” horse and saddle along with a plastic base, for Mastercrafters Clock and Radio in Chicago. Around 1954, that horse was produced on its own and given a rider and a new saddle, which was to become known as the Large Cowboy and his horse Champ. This launched a whole new direction for the company. By the end of 1954, Hartland plastics had created a companion piece, the Large Cowgirl, along with smaller versions of the same two sets. Today, most collectors call them small and large Champ sets.
Near the middle of the same year, Hartland sculptors created an Indian Chief set named Chief Thunderbird on an entirely new horse. They also painted their Large and Small Champ Cowboys in powder blue outfits and added a black painted facemask. These figures were paired with their respective white Champ-style horses and thus were created small and large The Lone Ranger and his trusty mount Silver sets. Soon after, The Canadian Mountie and a special Roy Rogers figure were added. Roy was mounted temporarily on one of the small Palomino Champ horses. To fill the need for a Dale Evans set, they gave the earlier Champ style Cowgirl a new paint scheme and put her on a dun-colored Champ horse before sculpting the actress/singers likeness for subsequent production. By the end of 1955, Hartland created the Lone Ranger's faithful companion Tonto, along with Davy Crockett—just in time for the Christmas rush!
Hartland was a small company, started in Hartland, Wisconsin, and was owned by Ed and Iola Walter until Ed’s death in late 1951. By 1955 the company had moved into a new production plant on Maple Ave. Spearheaded by Charles Caestecker and a creative group of entrepreneurs, Hartland really took off. Between the creation of a new line of toys and building their new facility, the 1954-1955 years were exciting and chaotic, and by the end of it all, Hartland established itself as a major toy maker.
Soon new Western Horse and Riders began to stream out of the factory. Paul Champion, the marketing director at Hartland, secured licensing agreements with the popular TV shows of the mid-50s. That created a wonderful product tie-in and Hartland cashed in. New molds were created for the horses and eventually each set took on its own individuality. With removable hats, guns, rifles, and saddles the toys became a “must have” piece for any kid. Popular shows such as “Cheyenne”, “Broken Arrow”, and the “Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” created the demand and Hartland delivered.
Hartland’s western line was big and it sold well, but it was seasonal business. Hartland would do most of its western-figure making in the summer so the figures could make it to stores in time for Christmas gift-giving. But when January rolled around there was nothing for the western-statue makers to make. They were often laid off until summer. What Hartland needed was statues it could make in the winter and sell in the summer.
Enter baseball. At a production meeting in 1957, someone challenged the group to come up with a make-in-winter/sell-in-summer product. At this point, the truth blurs a little. Did Frank Fulop, the supervisor of the assembly and decorating department and a huge baseball fan, throw out the idea of baseball statues, or did Tom Caestecker, the president’s son? It's hard to say. What matters is that the idea was brilliant.
Baseball statues were the answer. They could be made all winter in advance and sold at baseball parks and in stores all summer. Baseball statues weren’t exactly a new idea — there had been baseball-player statues, banks and busts since the turn of the century — but plastic baseball-player statues were something else entirely. The idea was given the go-ahead, and the groundwork was laid for one of the 20th century’s best-loved and most influential sports collectibles.
Baseball didn’t become part of the Hartland line overnight. It took time to work up. You couldn’t turn on your TV at night and see baseball players close-up and from every angle the way you could Roy Rogers or Paladin. Baseball on TV was a three-camera-game in the ‘50s, and none of them put you right on top of the action. You couldn’t look in a history book and see full-page portraits of baseball players the way you could with Robert E. Lee and George Washington. The sculptor had to go to baseball games and sketch players, and then create initial sculpts from those sketches. The positive for the artist was that he got to spend many balmy summer afternoons in a box seat at County Stadium or Comiskey Park, sketching players. The negative was that the first baseball figurines didn’t come out until 1958.
As you’d expect from a Milwaukee-based company that occasionally sent its chief designer as far afield as Chicago, the first statues featured stars of the home team: Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews, along with Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth.
The statues were a huge success. The accuracy of the sculpts and quality of the painting far surpassed anything collectors or fans had ever seen. Such was the demand for the statues that Hartland went back many times over the next several years and made more of the original five sports statues.
The next year, 1959, Hartland gave football a try. It made great sense; the previous year the NFL had had its breakout game, the sudden-death championship tilt between the Colts and Giants, and pro football was gaining the momentum that would made it the game of the ‘60s. The hero of the previous year’s championship game, Johnny Unitas, was the obvious choice to appear on a statue. Less obvious to modern eyes was the choice of a second football player, Los Angeles Rams running back Jon Arnett. But Arnett was coming off of a career year where he rushed for 683 yards and caught passes for another 494. He was young and fast (he was nicknamed “The Jaguar”) and good-looking. So why not Jon Arnett?
Unitas and Arnett sold well in their home markets, so Hartland came out with generic running back and lineman statues painted in team colors with an NFL logo on their base. There were 28 different statues — two for each of the league’s 14 teams — and each was made in quantities of 5,000 or less through 1963.
Because of the long lead time needed to make baseball statues, it took two years from baseball’s initial success to get more baseball statues on the market. Contributing to the gap was the large number of subjects in the second round of baseball statues: Ernie Banks, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, Yogi Berra, Dick Groat, Willie Mays, Roger Maris, Rocky Colavito, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Harmon Killebrew. Hartland baseball also took a cue from its horse line and introduced several generic statues, including a five-inch tall “Bat Boy”/”Little Leaguer” and a four-inch-tall “Minor Leaguer.”
During that same time period, Hartland also started introducing their new Gunfighters in 1958-1959. Along with the normal removable hats and guns, these ten figures also had moveable arms. Many youngsters gathered to over the brochures included in each box, wishing for the new Bat Masterson or Dan Troop.
1959 and 1960 were the heyday years for Hartland. The 1960 brochure for example, showed 26 Horse and Riders, all 10 Gunfighters, and 12 of the Baseball figures. Along with the sets shown on the brochures, behind the scenes, Hartland had begun making a fairly extensive line of cake toppers and other decorative figurines. While many might recall only the baseball player, bowler, or golfer, Hartland also continued with a small line of religious and graduation figures to be used as cake decorations. Because many pieces were not shown on the standard brochures, many collectors never knew Hartland made them. Hartland also sold sets like Trigger, Black Beauty, and Silver each with their own saddle but no rider as stand alone horses during this period.
Around this time Hartland also made a five-inch figurine originally known as the "Little Leaguer." The Little League Baseball Association opposed the use of this name and requested that it be changed; after destroying thousands of statues that were ready to be shipped, Hartland renamed the figure the "Bat Boy." A four-inch figure known as the "Minor Leaguer" was also produced. It was intended for use on trophy tops and cake decorations. Like many of the religious figures of the past, the Little Leaguer was also offered with a magnet base to be sold as a dash ornament. (Remember when cars had metal dashboards?)
Hartland also made a series of lamps for the Horse and Riders. They consisted of an oval “blonde” painted base, black stem, horse and rider and burlap-covered lampshade. The only westerns to get the lamp were Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Annie Oakley, and Matt Dillon. The sets were discontinued quickly in 1959 or 1960, and these pieces are now quite difficult to find.
In the late ‘50s, Hartland Plastics contracted with several of the large breweries such as Budweiser and Falstaff to create beautiful plastic advertising pieces. Unfortunately, many of those pieces are not marked with the traditional Hartland Plastics, Inc. imprint.
Besides the pieces marketed directly by Hartland, several pieces were modified by other companies and sold as aftermarket products such as lamps and clocks. For example, the full rearing Palomino horses (with an unpainted bridle) was fastened to a chocolate box by an unknown company and marketed as a Valentine gift.
Most statues created after 1954 were imprinted with “Hartland Plastics, Inc.” or the TV production studio such as “Four Star Sussex”. Many statues created prior to 1954 were imprinted with “Hartland Molded, Hartland, Wisc.” Some of the earliest pieces were marked with a “Diamond I” logo. (Ed Walter’s wife was named Iola). Many of the earliest novelty items lacked an imprint altogether, along with most of the special contracted pieces, such as the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Whether they had an imprint or not, the quality and craftsmanship in both design and production were outstanding! Today’s collectors can still pick out a Hartland statue just by examining the high degree of quality in the statue. The designers and engineers were masters of their crafts. Besides the actual plastic production time, each piece was beautifully painted—some having as many as eight colors! Most sets were nicely boxed (often full color) and included a hangtag and a brochure. Amazingly, many sets retailed at only $2.98-$3.98! Historically, most sets had a “standard configuration”. In other words, most sets going out of the factory had a consistent grouping of the rider, hat, saddle, and weapons. Whether it was by design or accident, some sets leaving the factory were known to have oddball parts and variations. It is easy to speculate that the factory simply substituted pieces when they were low on the correct ones! This all adds to the excitement of collecting.
By the 1960s, Hartland switched gears. The sales of the Western sets were dropping and 10 sets were discontinued. The 12 Mini Westerns were introduced along with a “Completely New Series” of Arabian horses. By 1963, the Westerns had been almost removed from the brochures showing only four sets. This made room for the expanded lines of horses and farm animals, along with the sports figures. Catalogs show the emergence of the new model horse 9-inch horse series. (In the current Hartland Collectibles line, you’ll recognize these as the “Heritage Series”.) The Horse and Rider models were offered without tack or riders during this period along with the new 9-inch Saddlebred, Grazing Arabian Mare and Thoroughbred horses. Also in the line were the 7-inch Beef and Dairy cow sets, and the line of equally scaled horses including the Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Morgan, Pinto, Appaloosa and Arabian family sets. (Look for the Legacy Series in the current Hartland Collectibles line for these models.) There was an even smaller 5-inch series of mares and foals including Quarter Horse, Arabian and Thoroughbred sets.
By 1964, the only Western sets remaining on the brochures were the set of 12 Mini Westerns. In 1964, Hartland introduced their 600 series set of mid-sized horse and riders called Comanche Kid, Alkali Ike, and Cactus Pete. (These were all created from the same mold—just painted in different color schemes). This catalog also shows two of the new “Woodcut” horses. Although molded in plastic, these sculptures have the appearance of being carved out of wood. The first two pictured were the Mustang and the Tennessee Walking Horse. Also new were the 9-inch Polo Pony, Mustang (non-woodcut version) and Arabian stallion along with the first and only 9-inch horse series baby, the Weanling Foal.
Also new were the Sunny Acres Farms series. These included a Farmer, his Wife, Daughter and Son along with various tools and an assortment of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, a kitten, a dog and a puppy. These were all in scale with the 5-inch series horses and came carded in sets.
The most detailed and dramatic series of horses to emerge during this period were the Regal Series horses. These were the largest Hartland horses, sometimes referred to as the 11-inch series. They included the Quarter Horse, Arabian and Saddlebred models. These were offered in rich dramatic colors including pearl finishes and unusual versions such as a subtle metallic blue with white mane and tail. Hartland was quite the innovator in both style of sculpture such as in the Woodcut series and also decoration, using new pearl finishes on their models.
Following the Woodcut Mustang and Tennessee Walking Horses came the 3-Gaited Woodcut horse and also a 6-inch Arabian Stallion (looking much like the larger Arabian Stallions,) a 7-inch Gaited family set and a 6-inch Thoroughbred mare and foal set. Each of these woodcut horses was molded in one of three colored plastics, Cherry, Ebony (near black) and Walnut. They were then stained to look like wood. These models have a very distinctive look that makes them sought after by today’s collectors. Hartland Collectibles has brought back these treasured molds and is scheduled to offer them in realistic horse colors for the first time in the history of the company.
Production of Hartland sports figurines came to a screeching halt in 1963 when the company was purchased by beauty-products-maker Revlon in order to concentrate on the production of cosmetic cases and displays. At the time, two new baseball statues were on the drawing board: Baltimore Orioles' slugger Jim Gentile and the New York Mets’ colorful manager Casey Stengel. Sadly these were never to be completed along with several new Regal series horse models.
The Hartland horse molds ended up in Durant, Oklahoma owned by Strombecker Toys. They continued to offer the horses and animals under the “Circle H" brand into the early ‘70s.
In 1978 the molds were sold to the Steven Toy Company in Hermann, Missouri. The larger scaled horse models were produced strictly as toys, some in dull, lifeless colors, and many in lighter-weight plastics. In the late 1980s, Paola Groeber, an employee of Steven, convinced the owners to allow her to bring up the quality of the model horse line.
The model horse collecting hobby had begun to rise in popularity, and it was time for the Hartland horse models to be given a new chance. This gave rise to the creation of Hartland Collectables (notice the use of the “a” in the spelling, not to be confused with the current company.) Ms. Groeber began to paint the models herself and offer them in limited quantities to collectors. Given new coats of paint and better quality plastics, the horses seem to be on their way to their rightful place amongst the hobbyists. A new Arabian mare and foal set, Lady Jewel and Jade, sculpted by the talented Kathleen Moody was created for Hartland and was very popular. Unfortunately, the Hartland Collectables run was a short one, and by 1990, the line was discontinued.
In 1987, Dallas attorney and Hartland-statue enthusiast William Alley secured the rights to produce a commemorative set of the original 18 baseball-player statues. By 1990 the new company with the Hartland name had produced a 25th-anniversary series and added six player statues to its product line: Roberto Clemente, Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Whitey Ford, Bob Feller and Ty Cobb. In addition, a two-figure piece known as "The Confrontation" was offered. It features a baseball manager and umpire squared off disputing a call.
At this point the Hartland story takes a bizarre turn. While on a business trip to a toy show in New York City in March 1991, Alley disappeared. During the following months, production of the company's statues was virtually halted. The supplier destroyed all but 10 of the Confrontation boxes. Alley eventually turned up months later, living in a Virginia, under a different name.
During his disappearance, his wife Pam Alley, with clearance through the courts, sold the company to family friend Bill Dunlap. Dunlap formed a company called USA Hartland, and chose his associate, Ken Movold, to take over much of USA Hartland's day-to-day operation. Under Dunlap and Movold, the Dallas-based company's, first call to action, was to restore the integrity of the Hartland name by fulfilling thousands of back-orders that were accumulated during the Alley disappearance-era. Movold also worked with Major League Baseball to renew license agreements and insure that all back royalties were reported and paid. USA Hartland also acquired an NFL license to reissue a commemorative Unitas statue.
Dunlap then sold USA Hartland to Steven Manufacturing in Hermann, Missouri. Steven Toy continued with the sports line and added a new release called "Safe at Second" from an original Hartland mold that never went into production. In addition to the Alley-era Ford and Clemente, new slightly larger figurines, of Nolan Ryan (home and road), Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Carl Yastrzemski were released in very limited quantities.
The new owner of Steven Toy also took a look at the horse models and decided to give them another chance. Steven hired a model horse consultant who came in to design the new line of colors and to train the painters on the subtleties of painting horses. Once again the 9-inch series, 11-inch series and two of the 7-inch series horse sets were introduced in new colors. New equine models including a Friesian and a Mule were in the works. Horse and Rider sets including Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Chief Thunderbird, George Washington, General Lee and Wyatt Earp were brought back. The company was also on the way to the re-release of a standing Gunfighter and several more Horse and Riders when disaster struck. The floods of 1993 were devastating to the mid-west, and Hermann, Missouri is on the banks of the mighty Missouri River. Sadly, the re-enforcements were not enough to prevent the nine-foot wall of water from crashing through the retaining wall and washing out the bottom floor of the Steven Toy plant. All production ceased, and the molds were retired once again.
Jump ahead to 2000, and join the new history of Hartland Collectibles. These models have such an interesting past, and a steadfast group of collectors and enthusiasts, that they are being brought back once again. The timeless beauty of the horse models makes them a familiar favorite among horse lovers. The smaller farm sets are still as fun and attractive as they were to past generations. Cowboys and Westerns still have a loyal following in today’s society, and Sports will always be America’s pastime.
The Hartland Horses line was reintroduced beginning in early 2001. There are four categories of horse models according to size: the Regal Series (11-inch) horses, the Heritage Series, (9-inch) horses, the Legacy Series, (7” and 6”) horses, and the TinyMites, the smallest 2” series of horses and dogs. Realistic new colors are the hallmark of these new versions of old favorites.
After a thorough evaluation of the four-decades-old machine tools, Hartland has determined that the molds for saddles, hats and guns appear to be usable, meaning collectors may finally be able to buy the Hartland-branded Western-figure replacement parts they’ve been clamoring for. The first issue was the well loved singing cowboy Roy Rogers and his golden horse Trigger. The set was complimented by his beautiful wife Dale Evans, her horse Buttermilk and their faithful dog Bullet. These beautifully detailed sets have even more detail and color than the originals and are limited editions of 2,500 pieces each. Roy Rogers is sold out See the remaining Dale Evans sets for sale in the Horse-Power Graphics STORE.
With new leadership, attention to detail, sensitivity to the collector point of view and skillful artisans, Hartland Collectibles is ready to bring back favorites from the past as well as create a new generation of equine and animal figurines for today’s collector.