Toy car, 'Oho', clockwork-operated, metal, made by E.P. Lehmann, Brandenburg, Germany, 1910-1920
The 'Oho' tin toy car made in about 1915 is probably one of the best known toys made by E.P. Lehmann, a company founded in 1881 in Brandenburg, near Berlin, Germany. Of all the European toys produced between 1880 and 1920, those made by Lehmann are the easiest to recognise. They are brightly coloured, and have an amusing and clever action to create dancing, climbing, walking, crawling and rolling, usually powered by a wind-up fly-wheel drive. This gave them engaging and amusing appeal.
Lehmann built up one of the most important and prolific toy-making companies in the world with toys aimed at a mass market. Prices were kept low by the use of a newly-developed thin, cheap type of tinplate. While the First World War ended the German monopoly of wind-up toys, Lehmann was one company that survived. By the 1920s Lehmann employed over 800 staff and produced over 100 different toy designs. These were marketed around the world in boxes with instructions in both German and English. A variety of Lehmann toys made their way to Australia in the early decades of the twentieth century. The Oho car was available in Sydney and was advertised in the 1911 edition of a catalogue produced by the Sydney department store, Anthony Hordern & Sons.
Margaret Simpson, 10 September 2007.
The toy car was made by the German toy-making firm of E.P. Lehmann around 1915. In 1881 Ernst Paul Lehmann had become a partner in the firm of G.L. Eichner & Sons, which made tin cans for aniline dyes. When Eichner died three years later, Lehmann changed the name of the business and continued alone, specialising in clockwork tin plate toys. Lehmann's factory was located in the small town of Brandenburg, on the River Havel near Berlin, some distance away from Nuremberg, then a world centre of toy making.
The firm became a notable toy exporter with some 85% of its toys being sold overseas via a network of sales representatives independent of wholesalers. The company's colourful designs were often humorous and produced to appeal to both boys and girls. They featured inventive mechanisms, witty names and sometimes a bizarre sense of humour, with some toy figures alluding to current affairs of the day. Animals such as zebras, ostriches and roosters were represented in the unusual position of hauling carts driven by clowns, comic figures and even rabbits. Some of the early designs, like the walking dog, the crawling beetle, Tom the climbing monkey and the 'Balky Mule' remained popular for many years.
As well as animals and figures, various transport subjects including aircraft, airships or zeppelins, buses, vans, motorcycles and cars were all produced, mirroring the technological development and styles of the time. When full-size automobiles appeared on the streets, Lehmann, who is claimed to have disliked this modern invention, introduced a toy vehicle as early as 1897. Many of Lehmann's toy cars featured unusual and memorable names that spanned both language and cultures barriers. As well as 'Oho' there were 'Tut Tut', 'Uha', 'Aha', and 'Lolo'. All were said to have been derived from ritual greetings and toasts made at a humorous club of which Lehmann was a member.
Lehmann's early tin toys had colourful finishes lithographed onto the tin plate before being made up with 'tab and slot' construction. Later toys were spray-painted and then fired at 120 degrees to give them a smooth enamel finish. Lehmann's trademark was an embossed 'e' surrounded by a bell or his initials 'EPL'.
Over 100 different models were produced by Lehmann until about 1920. In the early 1920s, Lehmann's cousin, Johannes Richter, a merchant and inventor, joined the firm. Richter encouraged the addition of toys of a technological nature. After Lehmann's death in 1934 the business was run solely by Richter.
During the Second World War the firm suffered from lack of materials and export restrictions but did continue to operate, although production decreased considerably. Nevertheless, Lehmanns did not have to convert to producing military goods as most other firms did and even managed to resist the request to produce politically-approved toys of a military nature.
The Lehmann factory buildings escaped war damage and only months after the end of the war were able to resume production at a modest level. Germany was subsequently split into the German Democratic Republic in the east, and the Federal Republic of Germany in the west. Brandenburg was located in East Germany and in 1948 Richter was accused of being a war criminal and profiteer and was removed from the company by the then Soviet occupation forces, with no compensation. At this time the company employed 800 workers and was at its peak. Lehmanns was nationalised and made into a 'people's own company' under the name VEB Mechanischne Spielwaren and is said to have become the German Democratic Republic's leading tin toy manufacturer.
Meanwhile, Johannes Richter left Brandenburg and fled to West Germany. In 1950 he and his family built up a new toy firm in a small Nuremberg backyard workshop. Richter died in 1956 and his sons, Eberhard and Wolfgang, continued to develop the company. A new factory was built on the outskirts of Nuremberg in 1959. With the demise of the tin toy industry, the reformed Lehmann toy company began making plastic toys, although it did continue to produce some of the old favourite Lehmann tin toy lines until the 1970s.
Today the Lehmann firm continues, having changed direction during the 1960s when it developed a new large scale model railway. Called the LGB or The Big Train (Lehmann Grobahn), it was launched in 1968. Despite the trend in model railways towards more miniaturisation, the 45mm G-gauge has been a great success for the company around the world.
Richardson, Mike and Sue, "wheels:Christie's Presents the Magical World of Automotive Toys", Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1999.
"History of the E.P. Lehmann Patentwerk Company", Nuremberg Toy Museum, n.d