The Early Years
Cascelloid Limited, which was later to become Palitoy, was founded by Alfred Pallet who, in 1919 at the age of 18, decided to set up a company to manufacture celluloid and plastic fancy goods, including a small number of toys. Pallett had started to train as an accountant, but left when he failed to pass his exams. He then sold typewriters for the Leicester-based stationery company Branson’s, before setting out on his own. The first Cascelloid factory was in a former lodging house in Britannia Street, Leicester.
Initially, the company’s sales were slow, amounting to only £90.00 in the first year, and on occasion Pallet had to pawn his own possessions to pay the factory bills. However, in 1920, the high street retail chain Woolworth’s began to place orders for a variety of Cascelloid products to be sold throughout their stores, including the first toy that the company produced, the small celluloid ‘Flitafast’ windmill. In so doing, they helped to secure the company’s future. Other products manufactured at this time included babies’ rattles, bag handles, egg-timers and hair slides.
By 1927 Cascelloid had around 60 workers and an annual turnover of approximately £10,000. The success of the Company was not dented by a fire which, in September 1927, destroyed the Britannia Street factory, along with the entire stock of finished products and raw materials, and which also sadly resulted in the loss of one life. New, larger, premises were acquired in Cobden Street, Leicester, which also became known as the Britannia Works, and production resumed after 6 months. By the end of the decade, the Cobden Street premises had been extended, Cascelloid employed approximately 250 people, and were manufacturing products for a range of companies in addition to Woolworth’s, including Marks and Spencer, Boots, Rowntree Ltd., Courtaulds and Huntley Palmer. These included Cascelloid’s first doll, the Mabel Lucy Attwell-designed ‘Diddums’, which was an early example of character licensing, first produced in 1925 using the blowing method of sending channelling super-heated steam between two sheets of celluloid in a mould.
In 1931, Cascelloid Ltd. became a subsidiary of the British Xylonite Company Ltd. A year later it moved premises to Abbey Lane, Leicester (although the factory retained the name of the Britannia Works), and after further expansion acquired a further site in 1937, this time in Coalville on the site of a billiard/dance hall and the adjoining 31/2 acres of land. The ‘Palitoy Playthings’ trademark began to be used in 1937, initially associated with the Company’s new ranges of soft-bodied dolls being produced at this new factory.
‘The House of Constant Progress’
In the late 1930’s the trade press were dubbing Cascelloid ‘The House of Constant Progress’, and this is reflected not only in the variety of product ranges which they were manufacturing, but also in Cascelloid’s development of new materials and manufacturing techniques. In the early-1930’s Pallet bought the exclusive worldwide rights to manufacture products using ‘Plastex’, a new form of ‘unbreakable’ plastic which included the secret ingredient of glue made from rabbit bones to provide a degree of elasticity, making it more durable than celluloid . In 1935 Cascelloid introduced Bexoid, a non-flammable material, with its range of ‘Bexoid Cherub’ dolls. An example of the Cherub was given to Queen Mary at the 1935 British Industries Fair, generating a large amount of publicity.
From 1940 – 1946, the Coalville factory was requisitioned to aid in Britain’s war effort, producing a wide range of equipment and parts such as anti-gas eye shields, and bomb noses and tails made from laminated paper. When the factory was given back to Cascelloid in 1946, however, the development of manufacturing techniques continued, including the use of injection-moulding, a technique pioneered and developed by Cascelloid’s parent company British Xylonite. During the official visit of King George VI, he was shown the first ever plastic toy cars made by this technique. In 1947 Bill Pugh joined Cascelloid as chief plastics designer, and immediately started investigating new plastics technologies. He accompanied one of the first trade missions to the United States after the war, resulting in Cascelloid importing new machinery and plastics manufacturing techniques from the U.S. into the United Kingdom. Cascelloid and Pallet also registered a number of patents at this time, including those relating to the use of ‘sleeping eyes’ in vinyl dolls, and the production of plastic dolls formed by injection moulding in two halves, before being subsequently joined together, and produced ‘Patsy’, the first vinyl drinking-wetting-crying doll.
Product Development (1950’s – 60’s)
During the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s, Cascelloid produced a wide range of products, including rattles, push- and pull-along toys, squeeze-squeak toys, model cars and trucks and beach and swimming toys. Role playing and dressing-up equipment was also introduced, based on the themes of cowboys, bus conductors, railway guards and nurses. Table tennis and draughts were two of the Company’s most popular games.
With the introduction of vinyl, Cascelloid produced a more varied range of dolls including ‘Patsy’, first manufactured in 1952, which went on to become a long-standing favourite. ‘Tressy’, first produced in 1964 (and discontinued in 1979), represented Cascelloid’s bid for the ‘teenage doll’ market. A year later in 1965 ‘Tiny Tears’ was launched into the U.K. market, although it had been produced in the United States since the 1950’s. The following year, in 1966, it won the National Association of Toy Retailers’ Girls Toy of the Year Award.
1966 also saw the arrival of the hugely successful Action Man. Palitoy, as it now was, fought off Lines Bros. to obtain the production rights from Hasbro, who made the US equivalent G.I. Joe. The range was launched at the Brighton Toy Fair, and initially consisted of a soldier, sailor and pilot in basic uniforms and dog tags. The range, however, was constantly updated with new clothing, equipment and even body shape, and eventually included Olympic athletes, footballers, space rangers and a North American ‘Indian brave’.
New ownership and expansion (1968-79)
In 1965, the toy division at Coalville was separated from the rest of the Cascelloid, and renamed the Palitoy Division. Three years later, in 1968, British Xylonite Ltd. sold the Division to General Mills Incorporated, where it was renamed Palitoy Incorporated. A North American giant in food products, General Mills had diversified into other consumer products and had recently acquired a number of other toy manufacturers, including Parker Bros. and Kenner. Palitoy became the centre of the General Mills UK Toy Group.
Over the next few years the Palitoy range of toys increased with the Bradgate range, exclusive to wholesalers, launched in 1971 and Pippa dolls first being produced by Palitoy in 1972. The Discovery Time range of pre-school educational toys was launched in 1974, and Mainline Railways, a range of authentic OO-gauge trains, was introduced in 1976, although produced for Palitoy in the Far East by Kader, who retained ownership of the original moulding tools. Other products were added as General Mills acquired new companies, for example Deny Fisher in 1970, which itself had acquired Wendy Boston Playsafe Toys, manufacturers of the Spirograph, two years earlier. To cope with this growing volume of products, 5 million cubic feet of warehouse space was opened in Ashby de la Zouche, Leicestershire in 1975, to be followed in 1977 by expansion of the Coalville factory and a new site in Baker Street, Coalville, to despatch Mainline Railways and also to house the Customer Service, Sample and Display Department, as well as the employees’ shop. Also, on the 2nd May, 1977 the new company Palitoy (Far East) Ltd. was set up to manage the increasing amount of production which was being undertaken overseas in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan.
The production of Star Wars figures, sub-licensed by Palitoy from its sister company Kenner, also began, the launch coinciding with the British opening of the film of the same name in January 1978. By this time, Palitoy had approximately 1000 employees and, in November of 1978, its sales topped £20 million for the first time in the Company’s history. The factory, which was originally 28,000 sq.ft. now measured 87,000 sq. ft., with the value of the production passing through it increasing from £1.2 million in 1969 to £11.6 million in 1978. Export sales, as well, were on the increase, standing at £2 million in 1979, with Action Man contributing nearly 60% of export turnover. General Mills continued to acquire new assets, buying Chad Valley in 1978.
The End (1980 – )
From the 1st January 1980, the three manufacturers (Palitoy, Denys Fisher and Chad Valley) stopped trading under the umbrella of the General Mills UK Toy Group and became the Palitoy Company (although still owned by GM). Late in the following year, it was joined by Airfix, which had been bought by General Mills, with the design team moving to Coalville whilst the plastic kit production was sent to Palitoy factories in France. The first two years of the decade, however, saw redundancies within the Company, and by 1982 nearly 450 jobs had been cut. This was despite the fact that, aided in particular by the Star Wars range, Palitoy had become an extremely successful company, holding between 10-15% of the entire British toy market in 1983, (the same year that its founder, Alfred Pallet, died aged 82).
Then suddenly in 1984, Palitoy’s design and development departments were shut down by General Mills, when they decided to abandon all European product development. Production of the major Palitoy products ceased, including Star Wars (which continued to be produced by Kenner), Action Man and Play Doh, although Airfix plastic kits and Care Bears, which Palitoy had started producing earlier in the year, continued to be manufactured. In effect, though, Palitoy became a marketing company, repackaging products designed in the United States for sale in European markets.
The remaining stock of Mainline Railways, and other track and track-side products from Airfix, were sold to Dapol, a company based in South Wales, in 1985, and in 1986 Palitoy ceased trading. The Coalville factory was sold to Kenner Parker Toys, a sister company of Palitoy formed from Kenner and Parker Bros. What remained of Airfix was sold to Humbrol, owned by the Borden Group, another North American corporation.
Following this sudden end, Kenner Parker was acquired by Tonka, and became Kenner Parker Tonka in 1987. This, in turn, was acquired by Hasbro in 1991, and resulted in the re-launch of Action Man by Hasbro in 1993. The Coalville site, also acquired by Hasbro, was eventually closed in June 1994, although there had been no production there for some years.
Of great help has been the research undertaken into Palitoy by Fiona Ure, Curator, Home and Family Life, Leicestershire Museums Service.
Brown, Kenneth. The British Toy Business. A History since 1700. London: The Hambledon Press, 1996. ISBN 1852851368.
Games and Toys. Trade magazine
Harrison, Ian. Action man. The Official Dossier. London: Collins, 2003. ISBN 0007165501.
Palitoy Diamond Jubilee Brochure, Palitoy, 1979.
Ward, Arthur. The Boys’ Book of Airfix. London: Ebury Press, 2009. ISBN 9780091928988.
Ward, Arthur. Airfix. Celebrating 50 years of the Greatest Plastic Kits in the World.London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999. ISBN 0004723279.