I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


14 January 2014

Toy tank inventions from World War I

Toys invented during a war often reflect that war. Tank toys in World War I are an example, and here are some patents as illustrations. I looked through both British and American patents.,

In November 1916, a patent application was made at the British Patent Office for this design, as illustrated below by the American equivalent patent:

The British document, accepted for publication in August 1917, was titled Improved mechanical toy and was by Duncan Rice, who described himself as "No. 522,853 Canadian Army Medical Corps, a Private in the Canadian Army at present stationed in France and at present attached to Headquarters of the Third Canadian Divisional Ammunition Column." As a corporal he applied, just after the war ended, for a combined shaver and stropper, GB130872. Meanwhile, the US patent for the toy did not get published until 1920, as Toy. He only applied for it in May 1919, from Aberdeen.

How did Rice know about the tank ? The first use of tanks by the British was in September 1916, before the first significant use of tanks at the Battle of Cambrai, in November 1917.

In date order of application, the next one to be filed was in January 1918 from New York City. The inventor was Koh Ono, who said he was a Japanese citizen. The patent, "Toy", was published as US1364513 and is illustrated below. It has considerably more detail than the Rice patent.

In February 1918 there was GB121848 was filed by William Ellis Pickford, a company director in Sheffield. It was for a "military tank" to be ridden by the child. Below is a view from above.

First page clipping of GB121848 (A)

Again in February 1918 there was Toy tank-car by Robert Potter Breese of New York City. It is illustrated below.

Next, on March 1918, there was Toy fighting-tank by Walter Huth of Chicago, IL. In it he mentions that it was made to "resemble the so-called tanks now in use by the British Army in France."The illustration below is from the patent.
In September 1918, a couple of months before the end of the war, was US1294237 by Edward Cloonan of St Louis, MO.

Further toy tank patents followed, for years all or most using the same general design of a vehicle with guns on the side instead of the now standard frontal view. A rare toy showing the general appearance of the now conventional tank dates backs to March 1919, by toolmaker William Osman of East Ham, as illustrated below. It is, apparently, based on the French Renault FT model.

First page clipping of GB142960 (A)

What impact did these militaristic toys have on the children, one wonders. It would have made them more interested in the military, as war-related toys and games generally flourished in World War I. 

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