The Saga of the Original Star Wars Action Figures

From the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Editor's note: We originally ran the blog below in 2015, ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters, we're resharing the piece. Enjoy — and May the Force Be With You.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Star Wars toys were Made in America.

If you’ve stepped into a retail establishment of any kind in say, the past six months, you have probably been inundated with Star Wars-themed merchandise. It’s all part of the massive money-making blitz surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opens on Friday. 

It is unfortunate — but sadly, not all that surprising — that most of the toys and T-shirts and gadgets and other tie-ins are made overseas. You can find some Made in America gear if you really look (Tervis is selling Made in America tumblers, for example) but most of the stuff lining the shelves in the big box stores is manufactured outside of the United States.

It wasn’t always this way. The toys for the original Star Wars film came from Cincinnati-based toymaker Kenner Products, who produced action figures, vehicles and playsets in the Queen City. 

And while it’s hard to believe now, Kenner landed the Star Wars contract only after companies such as Mattel and Mego turned down the opportunity to license the tie-in toys, since no one expected the movie to do well. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reports:

At that time, toys from television properties, such as Kenner’s “Six Million Dollar Man” doll, worked because of the lengthy exposure of TV, but movies weren’t in theaters long enough.

Kenner designer Jim Swearingen, a University of Cincinnati graduate, recalled reading the “Star Wars” script and telling his bosses they had to do these toys.

The designers knew they wanted to make toys of the spaceships, but the usual 8- or 12-inch dolls would make that impossible, so they instead created 3 ¾-inch plastic action figures that would become the new industry standard.

The Kenner action figures and other toys brought in $200 million in sales, the Enquirer reported, and are now highly coveted among collectors (especially in the box!).

Early Star Wars merchandise even was chronicled in the documentary Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys. Kenner’s Star Wars action figures were added to the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2012.

Kenner no longer is in business; Tonka bought Kenner in 1987, and Hasbro bought Tonka in 1991. Hasbro now is the official licensee of many Star Wars toys, including for the new movie.


Reposted from AAM

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

Union Matters

Freight can’t wait

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

A freight train hauling lumber and nylon manufacturing chemicals derailed, caught fire and caused a 108-year-old bridge to collapse in Tempe, Ariz., this week, in the second accident on the same bridge within a month.

The bridge was damaged after the first incident, according to Union Pacific railroad that owns the rail bridge, and re-opened two days later. 

The official cause of the derailments is still under investigation, but it remains clear that the failure to modernize and maintain America’s railroad infrastructure is dangerous. 

In 2019, 499 trains that derailed were found to have defective or broken track, roadbed or structures, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of safety analysis.

While railroad workers’ unions have called for increased safety improvements, rail companies have also used technology and automation as an excuse to downsize their work forces.

For example, rail companies have implemented a cost-saving measure known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has resulted in mass layoffs and shoddy safety protocols. 

Though privately-owned railroads have spent significantly to upgrade large, Class I trains, regional Class II trains and local, short-line Class III trains that carry important goods for farmers and businesses still rely on state and local funds for improvements. 

But cash-strapped states struggle to adequately inspect new technologies and fund safety improvements, and repairing or replacing the aging track and rail bridges will require significant public investment.

A true infrastructure commitment will not only strengthen the country’s railroad networks and increase U.S. global economic competitiveness. It will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs needed to inspect, repair and manufacture new parts for mass transit systems, all while helping to prevent future disasters.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work