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Marx Timeline

I've put this 'Timeline' together as a resource for Marx 12" figure collectors. It's always interesting to see / hear the history behind certain events or things. With the help of some other collectors, I've pieced together this little bit of information. I'm sure that it will need to be updated once I finally receive my copy of "The Encyclopedia of Marx Action Figures : A Price & Identification Guide " by Tom Heaton which is due out this month.

What a time it has been!

The History of Louis Marx & Co.

Founded by Louis and David Marx, Louis Marx & Co. started business in 1919. The first major plant was at Erie, Pennsylvania. Marx Trains were produced at the Girard, PA plant, and vehicles out of the Glendale, West Virginia factory. During WWII, the factories converted to support the war effort. In 1945, following VE day, General Dwight D. Eisenhower invited Louis Marx to join him as Industrial Advisor in Germany. I surmise that this is why Marx produced the very rare Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower figure you can see on my Marx Figures Page.

The 'hey-day' of Marx was truely in the 50's and early 60's. Marx made over 20% of the toys sold in the USA and had factories in ten countries, while licensing and exporting to others. The December, 1955 cover of Time proclaimed Louis Marx "The Toy King"!

Unfortunately, this golden period only lasted a few years. In 1972, Louis Marx retired and sold off the company to Quaker Oats. The next few years were typical for a company that had lost their inspiration. Mergers, acquisitions and failed products fortold the inevitable doom of Marx. 1978 was the last full year of U.S. production.

In the mid 90's the saga seemed to revive! Unfortunately, the legal battles and trademark wars are still quietly being waged. There are only a few people in the world that know what really happened behind those boardroom doors and what the immediate future of Marx may be... and they are not talking... yet! ;-)

Hopefully, Marx and in particular the Johnny West action figure line is not dead! I personally think it can and should come back - there are plenty of collectors from the late baby boomer generation just waiting to relive some childhood memories and if things are done right - a whole new generation just waiting to discover these great toys!

The Figures

Special Thanks to 'Robert', who provided much of this information.

Please see my Body Study for a more detailed look at figure production

1960

In the early 1960's T.V. westerns (everything from Gunsmoke to Davy Crockett) were the greatest things since sliced bread! Louis Marx realized the marketing potential of this frenzy and started working on a line of action figures / dolls for boys when they heard Hasbro was working on one (G.I.Joe).

1964

Fess Parker as Daniel BooneThey intended to get the rights to do Fess Parker as Daniel Boone, James Arness as Gunsmoke's Matt Dillon, and others. Daniel Boone was produced but the other deals proved too expensive for Marx and they decided to produce their own generic line. Using the Daniel Boone they already had, they introduced Daniel Boone The Wilderness Scout in 1964.This figure was quickly followed by Stoney Smith 'The Battling Soldier'. Both of these figures had solid molded bodies with non-articulated legs. The shoulder rotated, the elbows bent 90 degrees, the heads turned a little and the open hands spun in their sockets. Needless to say, GI Joe with his '21' points of articulation blew these guys out of the proverbial water. What I liked most about these early Marx figures was that they were rugged! Many falls, drops, dirt-clod battles and bullet impacts from dart guns never phased these guys.

The only real problem was how the arm spring was attached to the arms. The arms were molded with a plastic eye or loop on the inside of the shoulder. These two loops were then connected inside the body by a metal spring that passed through the elongated neck of the head, holding the head in place. The design flaw here is that the metal spring would work on the plastic loops on the arms and eventually break through. This happened to my Daniel Boone, so dad screwed in a metal eye-hook to hold the spring. Worked great! This is the reason why the early figures you find on the market today almost always have some damage to their arms.

1965

In 1965, Marx redesigned Stoney giving him a new head and articulated legs. Let me digress here a little. The Stoney figure is a perplexing problem in trying to fit him into a timeline. Without direct knowledge, it appears to me that they produced many different versions and boxed sets of Stoney and the Paratrooper in an attempt to compete with the Razor and Razor Blade marketing concept that Hasbro was using for GI Joe. I find it difficult to gather reliable information on just when and what was produced under the generic title of Stoney Smith.. 1965 also saw the introduction of Johnny West , reportably taking the name from John Wayne (JW get it?). He came with great western accessories and you could buy him a horse (Thunderbolt) to ride on. Note: The TV show The Wild Wild West started in September.

Ed Aames as MingoChief CherokeeIt is arguable that Marx copied Hasbro in the development of a 'boy' doll. But it can't be argued that Marx beat Hasbro with the idea of giving the 'good' guys some 'bad' guys to fight. Chief Cherokee hit the stores shortly after Johnny. I always thought that he looked like Mingo [Ed Aames] from the Daniel Boone TV show, so instead of battling western cowboys, my Chief was Daniel's sidekick in the mountains of Kentucky.

All the figures in 1965 still had the plastic shoulder loops and "open" faced hands. The knee articulation was a little bit of a concern for me during this period. The way the knee joint is constructed is solid but if it broke it was virtually unrepairable. The thigh is slightly hollowed out (to hold the ball at the top of the calf) with a semi-circle of plastic molded in the middle of this hollow. The calf has a rounded top with a slot cut in it to receive the semi-circle of the thigh part. These two pieces are then riveted together. Again, pretty strong, but if the semi circle broke there was no way to reglue it or to 'fashion' another piece to replace it. These broken knee joints show up as one of the most common problems in today's collector market.

Johnny & Chief's 1st boxes say the Action Cowboy (or Indian). This was later changed to read Moveable because these figures didn't perform any actions on their own.

1966

Original Jane Head Sculpt2nd Jane Head SculptIn 1966 Marx added Jane West, and the black Thunderbolt. Could Jane have been the answer to Hasbro's GI-Jane Nurse?? This year gives rise to one of the first variants in the Johnny West line. Initially, Jane was introduced with a different head than later years. The reason for Jane's head change has two versions, 1) because the mold accidently broke and a new 'thinner' face was sculpted, or 2) Marx wanted a 'prettier' face to market better. I happen to believe the later. Too many different molds were made to have them all coincidently break at the same time....

Robert Conrad in Wild, Wild WestCapt. Tom Maddox

Now this part of the timeline is a little rough, so bear with me... I believe this is the time when Marx started the James West project, see the Prototype section. I make this assumption because of the head sculpt used for Captain Maddox (shown right). My conjecture is that Marx made the head sculpt for the James West figure but did not get the rights from Conrad or CBS to use his likeness or the name James West. They then used the head on Capt. Maddox and saved the body casting work to be used in the future, as it turns out, on Sam Cobra.

So now comes the introduction of the Fort Apache Fighters (FAF) line of Marx figures. Until now, the figures were released in uniquely designed boxes and had no 'real' theme to unite the figures. FAF gave them their unity.

Chris Jones, ActorZeb Zachary

The Fort Apache Fighters series figures continued to try to capture the T.V. audience.
Capt. Maddox (using the Robert Conrad sculpt)
Bill Buck (using Daniel Boone's (Fess Parker's) head on a Chris Jones body)
Zeb Zachary (patterned after Chris Jones?) head on the maddox body

Fighting Eagle and Geronimo.
As with all toy companies, little attention was paid to actual historical facts. Although Geronimo was from the Apache tribe and fought the cavalry he didn't engage the 7th Cav that Marx produced. The Iroquois indians (Fighting Eagle) were located on the east coast, primarily in New York, and so should not have been included in the FAF series. But their 'Mohawk' hair and bare-chested appearance gave Marx another distinctive Indian to use. Of interest here is that Johnny, Chief Cherokee, and Jane did not get new box designs during this period. So the Marx line was still a little disjointed.

1967

Gen Custer (patterned after Wayne Maunder?) came out in 1967 as part of the FAF. They also changed those gloves and neckerchief from a flat pastel color to the bright yellow. Marx was well established now and tried a couple of more diverse figures. Mike Hazard, The Double Agent and Buddy Charlie or All American Fighters series came and "went a silent death".

1968

The year of the 'kid'. Marx introduced Jay, Jamie, Janice and Josie this year to fill out Johnny's family with Jane playing mom. GI Joe was also going through some marketing growing pains at this time with all the gruff over the Vietnam war. The toy companies were trying everything to increase the 'play' value of their lines.

The Marx Noble Knights and Vikings hit in 1968 and were gone by 1973. This series included Sir Gordon the Gold Knight, Sir Stuart (obvious spelling mistake) the Silver Knight, Odin the Viking Chieftain and Erik the Viking along with horses for all. An interesting note here is that the UK produced Sir Cedric the Black Knight made only in Swansea, South Wales. Reportably, only 10,000 Black Knights were produced making it one of the hardest to find today. The Gold and Silver Knights also had different names in the UK; Sir Percival and Sir Roland respectively.

1969

Accessories, we want accessories! Marx introduced many large pieces this year. Including the Covered Wagon, the Buckboard, the Buffalo, the TeePee and the cardboard Circle-X Ranch. Also in this year, Sheriff Garrett (who looks just like my dad but probably patterned after Dean Martin) and Sam Cobra came along.
Probably in response to increasing plastic prices, Marx introduced the smaller Johnny Apollo line during this year.

1970-1971

Not much to report here. Marx Co.was having troubles but the figures kept being produced, in less numbers.

1972-1974

As I mentioned earlier, this was the time when Louis Marx retired. The "Best of the West" boxes were introduced by the Quaker Oats company when they bought Marx. This is also the time when it was regulated to show the 'recommended age' information on all toys. The first run of these boxes didn't have the recommended age line on them so they added stickers until they started printing it on. So for the BOTW line you can get three different box variants per figure.
  1. Plain box, no age line, no sticker
  2. Plain box with sticker
  3. Box with imprinted age line

Princess Wildflower was introduced during this period under the BOTW line.

1975

Unfortunately, the end of the vintage line.
The Quaker company tried one last ditch effort to save the figures. They repackaged the figures and produced them in 'mod' colors under the Johnny West Adventure (JWA) line. This is when Jed Gibson was introduced. He was the first and only black figure made by Marx.

General items

  • "As for all the different stoneys they kept shrinking the package so they could sell it cheaper each year until they killed him altogether" in 19??
  • "The last stuff marx tried was a line of six inch figures on blister cards that few people know about,they consisted of cowboys (Johnny Colt), indians (Red Cloud), and Army (Sgt.Baker). "
  • "Marx also tried six inch figures in the Safari Adventure and Ready Gang lines (1979 if i remember right)."

1990's

Marx attempted to market two remakes in the mid 90's. These were Cowboy Kid and Chief Cherokee. Kid was a poor quality remake of the Capt. Maddox figure, with Johnny West accessories and a Thunderbolt horse. I haven't seen the Chief myself so I'll hold my opinions. These figures were produced, I believe, under an English license (Dapol) and only sold in the US directly from the Marx Toys, Marx Toy Corporation

In 1996 they advertised a Stoney Smith figure in olive green and sand color. I immediately tried to order them but after a couple of months of delays the company informed me that they were cancelling production.

At this time 1996-2000?, a Mexican license holder (unknown company) developed several figures including Johnny in grey, 3 knights (silver, gold and a greenish gold), Erik and another Viking with a orange haired Sam Cobra head. They also produced several smaller figures like those described in the General section above. I'm trying to get my hands on one or at least talk to the owner of one to get more details. These figures can be found on ebay today.

In 1998, KB Toys advertised that they would be selling the Marx remakes of the Gold and Silver Knights! My heart soared and I hoped they would be as well made as the vintage ones. The original issue date was to be in the fall of 98. KB's Web site at www.kbtoys.com had them listed in their Collector's Corner - Store Exclusives section. Then they updated the site and changed the release date to Feb of 99. They finally hit the shelves around Christmas of 1999. See my review section for a detailed look at these figures.

2000's

Now things get exciting again for Marx collectors. The Marx Toy Company starts producing the original figures and playsets again! Again, see my review section for a detailed look at these figures. First Johnny hit the shelves, followed quickly by Thunderbolt. Next came Sir Brandon - The Blue Knight (The first original figure since Jeb Gibson). Odin, Erik and Custer rounded out 2001. Then in 2002 Sir Cedric was re-released. Quality control had improved at the production plants and things looked good for the new Marx Company.

Then rumors started to flow, Marx was in negociations with www.stereoscape.com and in the summer of '02, the sale was done. I and other distributors were contacted and informed that Stereoscape would not be making anymore 12" figures and we were given the opportunity to buy out their stock. After further phone conversations with various folks at their New Jersey headquarters, I decided not to jump onto a sinking ship.

My reaction turned out to be the correct one. The 2000 era figures have all developed serious problems. They are cracking and falling apart in their boxes. Turns out that the poor quality material used by the Mexican manufacturer just doesn't hold up.

The later half of the '00 decade was very turbulent for the Marx action figure collector. The vacuum left by Stereoscape has been a mealstrom of legal battles, personality conflicts and public / private email wars.

Editorial Note:I've been intimately involved in this 'perfect' storm since it started. I'm not going to offer my judgement on the proceedings here, but I will say there are always 2 sides to every conflict. I urge you to do your research, read what's 'out there' and form your own conclusions... This particular part of Marx history is still very volatile!

Know More?

More information and research needed - If you know the answer please let me know.
  • What are the actual production runs of the various figures/box types. IE How many were made each year?
  • What are/is the timeline for the Canadian and UK versions?
  • What other confirmed box or figure variants are there in the US figures?
  • Are there other Figures / Horses / Toys that I don't know about?