Top 25 "It" products of all time: #24 -- The Matchbox Car


With remote control cars and simulated racing games clogging toy stores, it's hard to remember that, once upon a time, humble little die-cast cars represented the ultimate gift for any burgeoning car freak. Then, Matchbox's tiny little 1/78-scale automobiles were the absolute alpha and omega of child car culture. When I was five or six, it seemed like every little boy had his collection of 10 or 20 (or 70 or 80) of the tiny cars, and there was no finer thrill than racing them down our driveways and across our kitchen tables.

Created by engineer Jack Odell, the first matchbox car was intended to keep his daughter out of trouble. A mischievous child, Anne Odell liked to smuggle spiders to school in little matchboxes. In search of a suitable alternative, Odell created a tiny little steamroller that could fit into a matchbox. When the children at school saw the toy, they were instantly captivated, and the orders began rolling in. By 1953, a year later, Odell and a few friends had built a factory and were producing a small collection of miniature cars. That same year, their model of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation coach captured the public's interest and their business took off.