Toy horse, Mobo Bronco, ride-on, painted pressed steel, made by D. Sebel & Co Ltd, in either Erith, Kent, England, 1947-1972 or Bankstown, NSW, 1951-1957
The Mobo Bronco pressed-steel toy ride-horse was first made in Erith, Kent, England, in 1947 by David Sebel and his son, Harry. It helps illustrate the change in toy horse production from timber to moulded plastic via pressed metal, a change that is also reflected in other types of ride-on toys, including pedal cars. The firm continued in production until 1971, being forced out of business by cheaper toys made in Asia.
The Broncos were very popular and from 1948 they were exported to the United States. An office was opened in New York and the American subsidiary was called Sebel Products Inc. Other major markets were in Australia and South Africa.
In 1951 David and Harry Sebel immigrated to Australia and set up their toy and furniture factory in Bankstown, NSW. The horses were very popular and continued to be made in England. Components were still manufactured in their Kent factory and shipped to Australia for assembling and painting. From 1957 the firm decided to concentrate on furniture and the Australian toy production ceased. Today the Australian furniture business is part of GWA International Group and they have just opened a branch in the United Kingdom.
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry
A patent was taken out for the basic mechanism of the Mobo Bronco toy horse in 1942. Later, the sculptor, Charles Morewood RA, was commissioned to make the clay body for the horse suitable to go into mass production in metal. Full production began in September 1947 after the new factory in Erith, Kent, had been fitted out with large metal presses, dip tanks and spray booths. The choice of colours for the horses was chosen after market research with local school children from West Street School with yellow and red being the favourite. These children were also used for photo shoots in advertising and for testing the toys.
The range of colours eventually ranged from red saddles and blue saddle cloths on bodies of pale grey-green with randomly sprayed brown spots to silver bodies with softly sprayed black manes and tails and yellow saddles cloths. This colour scheme was reversed and black horses with silver manes and tails were produced as well. Gold saddle cloths with red saddles were chosen for black horses and theses had been introduced by the 1960s. Brown spotted horses remained in production with some sporting tartan saddle cloths in red, yellow and turquoise. Mobo Ponies were usually painted white with touches of colour decoration. These were manufactured as a complete shape without separate legs, and were attached to push-along handles. They featured two small wheels on the back axle and another concealed under a large hollow front hoof. A trotting pony, attached to a child-size cart, also of pressed steel, was known as the Pony Express.
From 1947 to 1950 the Mobo Bronco toy horse could only be steered in a straight line but in February 1950, 'Magic Steering' was introduced which enabled the rider to steer the horse in either direction by pushing down on either stirrup. The body for the Mobo Bronco was also used for a series of other toys: the Spring Horse (Prairie King), Night Rider, Prairie Prancer, Range Rider, Rocking Horse and Bronco Merry-go-round. However, the Mobo Bronco was so popular it stayed in production until 1971.
The Mobo Bronco toy horse was made by D Sebel & Co Ltd. David Sebel (migrated to England from Russia in about 1912 and in 1921 went into partnership in East London with a wheelwright. In 1928 he moved the company to Lant Street, London, and took over the firm of Hazeldine & Norton who were wheelwrights, motor body and van builders. During the 1930s the company expanded into architectural and commercial metalwork and produced cleaning carts, milk churns, fire escapes, iron railings, truck wheels, trolleys and automobile parts. In 1931 David's son, Harry Sebel (1915-2008) , joined the firm and during the Second World War they made aircraft and tank components, bunks for air raid shelters, Bailey bridge components and a tower for an experimental radar station.
After the War the Sebels realised they would need to expand the company and diversified into making metal furniture, under the trade name Stak-a-Bye, and toys. Harry had the idea for producing a type of rocking horse which the rider could propel along themselves. Plans were drawn up and a full size mock-up was made using bicycle gears. To get the idea of how the horse would look, a taxidermist in Piccadilly was approached for a horse hide but the only hide available was from a zebra.
The firm moved into larger premises, 177 West Street, Erith, Kent, in 1947, which was the former Vickers Gun Works, and production of toys began. The name Mobo was devised during a brain-storming session after the term 'mobile toys' was rejected. The clown featured on the decal attached to the chests of Mobo horses was included because David Sebel was interested in circuses. The circus theme was also employed in their exhibition stand at British industry fairs and in advertising material.
In 1955 Mobo took over the toy boat business of Harold Flory Ltd of Bromley, Kent, and produced the Snipe, Swift, and St Christopher motor boats, the Sprite yacht and the Snort submarine as well as toy cars. The Jetex model aircraft engine business was acquired in 1956 and a range of jet-propelled engines were produced together with model kits for aircraft and plastic boats and cars. The mid-1960s saw the introduction of moulded plastic with the importation of a range of plastic pedal cars from Pines of Italy. By the late 1960s the British toy industry generally was having difficulty competing with cheap imports from Asia, so when John Bentley of Barclay Securities made on offer to purchase Mobo in 1970 it was taken up. The Barclay Toy Group was formed, to which Chad Valley, Charles Methuen and Tri-ang were added in 1971. Unfortunately the overheads of the group meant losses were still being made and a major reorganisation took place in 1972 which saw the Erith Works being closed and all production of Mobo toys cease. The site of the factory is now a large housing estate.