When it comes to American toy manufacturers, two names rise above them all. Hasbro and Mattel. Hasbro has been around a couple of decades longer than the baby-faced Mattel, though you wouldn’t know it with Mattel’s success. But when you look at Hasbro vs Mattel, is there a clear winner as the best toy company?
Both companies have massive toy brands. Both companies have ventured into the film and television markets with great success. Both companies have dealt with the pitfalls of the toy industry to include this last one, the COVID pandemic, and look to have come out on the other side only minimally scathed.
It’s been a fascinating battle over the decades, with each throwing haymaker after haymaker as they try to one-up each other for the title of the best toy company. So, which is it? Hasbro vs Mattel – let’s give it a look.
HASBRO VS MATTEL – HISTORY IN THE MAKING
In 1923, Herman, Hillel, and Henry Hassenfeld founded the Hassenfeld Brothers company. The company sold textile remnants. For the next two decades, they continue to sell those remnants, but they also began to expand their business by producing pencil cases and school supplies. When their pencil supplier decided to make his own pencil cases, the Hassenfeld Brothers countered by making pencils. It proved to be a smart business decision.
Not long after, the Hassenfeld Brothers began to dabble in toys. They first manufactured modeling clay and then doctor and nurse kits. By 1942, they were primarily a toy company. During WWII, they began to use plastics to support their toy lines. It wasn’t until 1952, though, when they purchased a certain toy from toymaker George Lerner, that they truly began to make noise as toy manufacturers. This toy? Mr. Potato Head. Two years later the Hassenfeld Brothers became a big-time Disney licensee.
For 45 years, the Hassenfeld Brothers kept that name for their company. It wasn’t until 1968 that the name change came into effect and the Hassenfeld Brothers changed their name to Hasbro Industries. They have been Hasbro ever since, establishing themselves as a top toy manufacturer.
Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot and Ruth Handler founded Mattel in 1945 as Mattel Creations. They worked out of a garage and began their venture by selling picture frames, then later dollhouses they created from the picture frame leftovers. The company name was derived from the blend of Harold’s nickname “Matt” and the “El” from Elliot.
When “Matt’s” health began to decline a year later, he sold his share and stake in the company to the Handler’s. That very following year, Mattel had their first hit toy on their hands, the Uke-A-Doodle, a toy ukulele. Next came the Magic 8-Ball in 1950 and they began to push their name to the entire when they became the first sponsor to the popular Mickey Mouse Club TV series.
HASBRO VS MATTEL – EARLY BIG SUCCESS
Both toy companies were enjoying their early success. Hasbro had Mr. Potato Head, among others, to lead their way while Mattel had the little kids market cornered with the Fisher-Price bus, the corn popper, and the xylophone. But Mattel was ready to take the first real big shot.
Ruth Handler gained inspiration one day while watching her daughter play for hours with paper dolls. She saw an opportunity to inspire girls by introducing a doll that would show them they could be anything. Ruth’s daughter’s name was Barbara and from her inspiration came the Barbie doll. This was in 1959, a few years before Hasbro would counter.
And counter they did. In 1963, the company was approached to license a toy that was to be based on the TV series The Lieutenant. They liked the idea but turned down the offer because they didn’t wish to be tied to a series that may last but a year. Instead, they decided to create their own toy based on this concept. His name was G.I. Joe, and he was then and still is now one of the most popular action figures on the planet. More on him in a bit.
The early success for both companies is what sets them apart from most of the other toy manufacturers, though it keeps the two pretty much tied at the hip. Mattel had Chatty Cathy and Creepy Crawlers. Hasbro had Romper Room and the Galloping Gourmet. Mattel countered with another huge brand in Hot Wheels. Back and forth the two companies went.
G.I. JOE VS MAJOR MATT MASON??
Obviously, there is no competition here since G.I. Joe is still one of the most popular toys on the planet while Major Matt Mason, well, does anyone know who he is? Chances are, if you ask a Baby Boomer, you might get an answer. In the meantime, let us help you out.
Major Matt Mason was Mattel’s answer to Hasbro’s G.I. Joe. Instead of a fighting soldier, Mason was an astronaut. Instead of a 12” action figure, he was a 6” bendy rubber figure that was wrapped around a wire armature.
Major Matt Mason was an immediate hit. G.I. Joe was beginning to see a downslide because of the very unpopular Vietnam war, so kids were flocking to the hero astronaut. Mason had three other astronaut companions, Sgt. Storm, astronaut Doug Davis, and the very first African American astronaut action figure, Jeff Long. Again, the entire line was extremely popular as it became comic books and kids’ lunchboxes.
Unfortunately for Mattel, Major Matt Mason didn’t last as long as they had hoped. His downfall could be contributed to his design. Being built around a wire armature has its benefits with maximum maneuverability, but that was also its drawback. After a while of bending Mason into position, the wireframe would simply break causing Mason to be inoperable wherever the break occurred. Kids put up with it for four years before complaints took it off the market.
G.I. Joe, even during the Vietnam conflict, survived. To this day he is one of, if not the top-selling action figure of all time.
HASBRO VS MATTEL – ON THE BIG AND SMALL SCREENS
Both toy companies know a good thing when they see it and their early days dealing with Walt Disney may have been a precursor to where their company would eventually go – Hollywood.
Both toy companies have enjoyed tremendous success on both the big and small screens. Mattel has seen Barbie and Hot Wheels make it big. They also have Thomas & Friends and Monster High. While Barbie has enjoyed a lot of success, probably their biggest hit to come from their toy line is He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Not only have they produced a number of animated series, but they also had a hit 1987 live-action movie that starred Dolph Lundgren as He-Man.
Not to be outdone, Hasbro jumped in early and has been rocking it hard ever since. Go-Bots and My Little Pony led the way early on, but it was the advent of Transformers that really put Hasbro on the silver screen map.
That success was followed by their biggest star, G.I. Joe, who made it to the silver screen in all his “Go, Joe!” glory. From then on, it was a constant direct-to-video diet of G.I. Joe and My Little Pony. Both toy companies continue to produce new material for television.
HASBRO VS MATTEL – THEIR BRANDS TODAY
Today, things are finally starting to get back to normal for both toy manufacturers. When Toys ‘R Us fell, they both took a major hit. Losing money hand-over-fist, they had to reinvent the wheel in order to keep their companies afloat. Thankfully they did.
But just as soon as they were seeing the light of day from the Toys ‘R Us bankruptcy, a little thing we know as the COVID pandemic rolled into town, knocking both companies down another peg or two. It’s been slow going, but they have begun to fight their way out of that malaise. The supply chain issue isn’t helping sales much so far, but with the holidays looming, there is still hope.
Hasbro still has its big names – Transformers, Monopoly, Nerf, Playskool, Tonka, My Little Pony, and Littlest Pet Shop. They are all still great sellers.
Mattel, on the other hand, has its big names as well – Barbie, Hot Wheels, Match Box, Fisher-Price, American Girl, Masters of the Universe, and Polly Pocket, to name but a few.
They are both highly successful on their own as toy manufacturers and look to continue that trend as we head into the holidays. As for which one is the most successful toy company; G.I. Joe leads one while Barbie leads the other. You can’t go wrong with either.