Hartland Plastics of Hartland, Wisconsin manufactured a variety of products for different industries. Point-of-purchase items for breweries, display cases for Timex, boat seat covers for Sears, religious figurines and western statues as toys to name a few. The very first Hartland introduced was "Killroy was Here." The figurine depicts a pregnant female looking down at the ground standing on a small base entitled "killroy Was Here." This work kept the factory busy throughout the summer but by the time Christmas rolled around there was little to do.
In an effort to capitalize on the popularity of the western characters found on television, Hartland decided to produce a series of western figurines. In 1953 they produced The Lone Ranger, Tonto, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Bullet. They each stood nine and one-half inches tall, except for Bullet of course, and had removable hats and guns and arms that moved. They were made from acetate based plastic and then painted with acetate based paint. Using acetate paint was selected partially because the paint left no "skin" leaving a smooth finish from one color to another or from the paint to the plastic. Most of them came with removable accessories, including hats, hand guns, rifles, reins, saddles and flags. Some figures had unique accessory pieces. Josh Randall's mare's leg held his rifle, Custer had his saber and Wyatt Earp had his Bunt line special (long barrel revolver) to name a few.
Back then you could find them for $1.98. Some of these "toy" figurines
did not sell well initially and were discontinued after limited production.
This is what makes them very tough to find today. Most common figurines
had production over 200,000. The rarer figures (Col.
Randal Mackenzie) had only 5,000 produced. There was only one Gun Fighter
produced for every 12 Horse and Rider figures made. Mint Gun Fighters will
fetch over $1,300.00 at shows.
The figures were molded in two halves, front and back for people and left and right for animals (horses, Bullet and Rin Tin Tin). There are also variations of some figures. The early Lone Ranger wears chaps and looks more like a generic figure. The newer Lone Ranger looks more like Clayton Moore and does not come with chaps. There are also three different styles of Silver. First, the generic horse had a chain and reins. When the Clayton Moore was introduced, Silver came in either a rearing stance or a standing position. The #804 Sgt. Preston and (holds a flag) #804 Sgt. Lance O'Rourke (does not) appear to be the same figurine with a different name on the box. (#817) Jim Bowie and his horse Blaze are the same figures that were used to create Davy Crockett and his horse Streak. The only difference is the hat. Davy wore a coonskin hat and Jim Bowie a cowboy hat. The 800 series figures came with a tag depicting the name of the person that could hang around the neck of either the horse or the person. These tags were often discarded and are valuable independently.
The figures came in one of three styles of boxes. Type one is a plain cardboard box with plain printing on it, plain cardboard with colored artwork or a box with a full color photo on it. The gunfighters came with moveable arms and were placed in either the artwork box or one with a see through front. The 8" western wranglers came in a see through box and the 5 1/2" western horse and riders came on a colorful blister card. Some accessories are reproduced today (guns, saddles & hats) and can be purchased from dealers.
During a production meeting, the question was posed if anyone had any
ideas that could take up the winter slack and avoid the layoffs that occurred
each year. Frank Fulop, supervisor of the assembly and decorating department,
did have an idea. Frank was an avid baseball fan and he suggested that
the company produce a line of baseball figurines that could me made during
the winter and sold during the summer. Frank had no idea at the time what
impact his little idea would end up having in the sports collecting hobby.
Frank was assigned the project to develop the first line of Hartland Baseball statues. So he did what any other baseball fan would do when presented such a task, he spent most of the summer watching and sketching players at Milwaukee County Stadium and Chicago's Comiskey Park.
Hartland introduced a series of baseball players that were sold very well at the concession stands. These ball players made from plastic that would endure and become the benchmark that all other sports figurines would be compared to. The figurines were approximately 8" high and were made from acetate plastic and were painted with acetate based paint that left no "skin". Thus the figurines were able to keep a very high definition and superior quality. The first group of players introduced were: Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth.
Customers raved about them. They had excellent detail and superb painting qualities.
Hartland forayed into the NFL and produced 5,000 Baltimore Colt quarterback figurines of Johnny Unitas. He was to be the only quarterback produced by Hartland. Jon Arnett, the Los Angeles Rams star running back also had 5,000 minted and each sold very well in their respective home markets but no where else. So, Hartland introduced 28 additional football players. At the time there were only 14 teams in the NFL and Hartland made a running back and a lineman each adorned in their respective team colors. They each stand on a green base that has the NFL logo and team named embossed in gold on the front of the base. In total, 5,000 of each was manufactured between 1959 and 1963.
They were sold in a plain white cardboard box with blue and red ink printing, sketches and logos. The front panel tore away to reveal a cello panel through which one could see the figure. The top flap of the box was then stamped with a black label indicating RUNNING BACK or LINEMAN.
Hartland began to sign other baseball players to contracts. Negotiations were handled face-to-face. There were no player's associations back then. Soon after, Hartland introduced Cub's star Ernie Banks and White Sox stars Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox. Right behind this came another 10 players; Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Roger Maris, Harmon Killebrew, Rocky Colavito and Dick Groat. Virtually the entire group is in the Hall of Fame. All statues were produced from actual sketches with the exception of Ruth who was developed from photos.
The 5" Bat Boy was originally called the "Little Leaguer". The original bubble pack shipping envelope has it labeled "Little Leaguer". However, the Little League Baseball Association of America complained about using their "name". As a result, 40,000+ statues were destroyed out of the 50,000 made to that point. He was renamed the "Bat Boy", a name still used today. Also, the 4" Minor Leaguer was created and used for trophy tops and cake decorations. As a trophy top you will find him painted gold. You can also find him standing on either a black base or white base. Some exist that were never painted at all and are still all white.
They were packaged in two types of boxes. The first type was a "solid" box that showed an action scene and had the particular player's name and facsimile autograph or photo located on the all six sides. However, some boxes were used to ship other players and may appear with no name, photo, autograph or decal where the printed autograph and name should be. The second type of box was a plain white "display" box with dark blue and red lettering and a sketch of a player on the front. The front panel was perforated and could be removed to find the player inside behind a cellophane shield. This is referred to as the display box.
Included with every player, except Roger Maris, was a circular red tag with white lettering bearing the player's facsimile autograph and nickname. It appears that the "tag" was only included with the first type of box and not with the display box. The tags have a string that is used to hang the tag around the neck of the figurine. The strings came in bright red and a tan color. I have never seen a Maris box other than the display one. This may explain why he has no tag. The average selling price was $1.98 and they were intended as toys.
Just as the boxes and tag had variations, so do the figurines. First of all, eleven figurines are known to have been made with magnets glued to the bottom of each foot or base ( Minor Leaguer) and a small black metal plate that would serve as the base. It also had a small hole in one corner for fitting a nail or screw through to fasten the plate to another surface. A favorite place for these magnetized Hartland's was the car Dashboard! These eleven players are: Aaron, Banks, Berra, Fox, Mantle, Mathews, Mays, Minor Leaguer with white base, Musial, Ruth & Spahn.
Fox and Mathews came with and without red trim around the "SOX" logo on the front of the jersey and around the number on the back of the shirt. Ted Williams' jersey comes with "RED" and "RED S" on the front. Aaron comes with a hi-step and a flat footed stance. The latter was a modification to make the figure stand more easily. The trim colors used on Mays appear to be either yellow or orange. A gold spray painted Mantle was use to make a now rare Mantle lamp. Aparicio, Colavito and Drysdale have either a white or purple toe plate. Ted Williams comes with a white only toe plate.
Finally, there are 3 types of bats. Ruth has a fat long bat. Banks, Groat, Maris and Musial use a short bat. Aaron, Colavito, Killebrew, Mantle, Snider and Williams use a large or regular bat.
By this time Hartland baseball statues were in full production. The top sellers were the first 5 and the most common are the 3 Braves. Even the rejects found a home. Frank explained that each year he would take the rejects, repair them and then send them throughout the country to Indian reservations and orphanages at Christmas time. Letters would come in from children thanking them for the statues. For many it was the only gifts that they received.
In 1959 LSU won the NCAA football championship and their star running back, Billy Cannon won the Heisman Trophy in 1961. In 1962, Hartland used the running back mold and created the LSU running back and an LSU lineman with the purple and gold emblems of the school on each shoulder as well as the yellow pants. The university ordered 10,000 figures that were completely sold out by the end of the first semester. A proto type quarterback from the University of Wisconsin was produced but rejected and returned. A running back proto type was sent to Notre Dame in its school colors and no one ever got back to Hartland or returned the figurine. I wonder where that one is?
Despite the success of the statues, production came to a halt. Jim Gentile of the Orioles and legendary manager Casey Stengel were slated to become the next Hartland's offered. However, Hartland Plastics was sold to Revlon Cosmetics Company before they were manufactured. It is related that the owner of Revlon walked through the factory and demanded that production stop on everything except compact cosmetic cases and related items.
Steven Manufacturing Co. of Hermann, Missouri made a bulk asset purchase of hundreds of original Hartland molds. Steven Carried on the tradition by continuing to manufacture "unbreakable", high definition Horses, Gun Fighters and Horse and Riders in various styles, like walking, bucking, semi rearing and fully rearing. The horse were also painted in a variety of colors including black, white, multi, tan and butterscotch to name but a few. This is what collectors wanted and now they were able to expand their collections. Later it was discovered that the original baseball molds, that were thought destroyed, were among the items purchased.
The end of an era occurred on June 30, 1978. Hartland Plastics as it was known closed its doors for good. From 1963 to 1978 the company traveled through the hands of many conglomerates and was even owned by its employees at one point.
William Alley, a Dallas attorney, became interested in the Hartland sports figurines while he was attending card shows in the area. He was not aware at the time of Steven and the Western Series of Hartland products. But with the help of Frank Fulop, Alley secured the right to produce a Commemorative Series of the original 18 ball players. This series was received very well by collectors and it looked as though Hartland was rolling once again. In 1990 Hartland created six new statues; Roberto Clemente, Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Whitey Ford, Bob Feller and Ty Cobb and a 2 figurine set known as The Confrontation. These were offered in an attractive box known today as the green box. The boxes were a thick stock of cardboard and included an attractive mural of the player on the front panel. Production was authorized to 10,000 of each. Actual production of each is believed to be; Eighteen 25th Anniversary Players 9,700, Clemente and Ford 10,000, Gehrig and Dean 500, Cobb 45, Feller 25 and The Confrontation 20, Bat Boy and Minor Leaguer 2,500. The Bat Boy was originally offered free as a bonus to anyone that order a complete set of the 25th Anniversary.
While on a business trip in March 1991,in New York, Bill Alley disappears. During the coming months the company virtually halts its production of figurines. There was no money to pay vendors. Rumor has it that the rarity of the boxes used for The Confrontation was created by non payment to the vendor that produced the boxes. The vendor arrived at the factory and destroyed what it thought was all of the boxes. However, an employee managed to hide 10 boxes from destruction and these are the only boxes known to exist for The Confrontation. The Confrontation is a likeness of Sparky Anderson and a generic umpire squared off at one another. The Umpire was produced first and he is available as a singular statue. All Managers are used to complete Confrontation sets.
Bill Alley's wife sells the company to Bill Dunlap who formed USA Hartland, Inc. USA Hartland accepts advanced orders for flame thrower Nolan Ryan, immortals Cy Young and Honus Wagner. USA Hartland is purchased by Steven Manufacturing and is moved to Hermann, Missouri. The "Missouri" Hartland's were released with what is known as the gray box. 15,000 "Safe at Second" sets are produced from an original Hartland mold that was never produced. It comes in a grey box and contains a second baseman, umpire and sliding running placed on a base that contains the second base bag and a base path trimmed by infield and outfield grass. Ford and Clemente are finished and they are shipped in gray boxes.
USA Hartland also receives an NFL License and offers a commemorative Johnny Unitas as well as the other fourteen original generic football players. Only Unitas is released.
Ryan is offered in two forms, his home white and road gray uniform. The gray uniformed Ryan was sold through Target stores in an open front display box in select states. Production is believed to be 5,500 gray road uniforms and 4,500 home uniforms offered in either the grey box or open front style box.
Also reissued were westerns of Wyatt Earp #281, Dale Evans #276 , Robert E. Lee #292, Roy Rogers #275 and George Washington #291. You will note that Dale Evans comes with a pink dress and that Roy's Shirt looks like a combination of the "v" fringe and the "h" fringe the original had. Also, Trigger is not in any of his original poses being head down. Carl Yastrzemski was in production on July 8, 1993, when the Great Missouri Flood completely destroyed the Steven factory that was located on the banks of the river. He is boxed in a Ryan open front display box and has a production realized of approximately 400.
In October 1993, a letter is sent to all those on the Hartland mailing list explaining the flood and the anticipated return to production sometime in November of 1993, and that new players were in the works for 1994. Hartland closed its doors once again, possibly for good, shortly thereafter.
Baseball and Football photographs courtesy of the Blankenship Collection.
Gun Fighter and Horse & Rider courtesy of the Joseph David Collection.
All items can be viewed on our website in their respective Departments.
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Craig Blankenship's Hartland Figurines
P.O. BOX 2141
YAKIMA, WA 98907-2141
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