MotorCities National Heritage Area

By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/ Researcher
Images: Courtesy of Robert Tate's Collection/ Dennis Doty- Model Car Journal
Posted: 07.22.2015

This story is about Mr. John Haenle and how he started one of the most famous and influential toy manufacturing companies in the world.

Jo Han Models, a toy and model manufacturing company was started by the late John Haenle in 1947. The company was located in at 17255 Moran Avenue in Detroit.

Mr. Haenle’s career started at 8-years-old building model airplanes. At the time, he won many contests and awards for is creative achievements and talent. Later, his career would continue as he began building and decorating aircraft models that were exhibited at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair and the 1940 New York world's Fair. During World War II, Haenle's aircraft models were photographed and used for aircraft identification by the United States. The models were later turned over to the Air Force Museum at the Wright Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio.

file 20150722075408 Jo Han ModelsJohn Haenle Jr.Haenle's career would continue with Youngstown Kitchens, along with Lyons Kitchens and the Bell Aircraft company. Haenle also manufactured demonstrator scale models for Dodge Gyrol Fluid Drive transmissions and Dynaflow for Buick transmissions models. These were salesman samples that actually worked. He also manufactured plastic toy flying super jets for children. However, Haenle is most remembered for his 1955 model car line.

In 1954, Haenle started Ideal Models and at the beginning, he hired Mickey Alexander along with the late Bill Swartz and 12 young ladies from a nearby Detroit automotive factory plant. One of the ladies was the late Mary Poney from Detroit who would later become the lead person on the manufacturing assembly line during the 1950s and 1960s. He also hired the best detailed tool/die workers for that precise look of quality.

file 20150722075502 Jo Han ModelsJo Han 1955 Assembly LineIn 1986, John Haenle hired me as a consultant to help him with developing new ideas and bringing back old product designs from the past for his company. It was a cold winter day in December, when he and I sat down with each other and he gave me his story of how Jo Han Models got started.

Mickey Alexander was the individual who helped to obtain contracts in the 1950s-60s from the car manufacturers to make and produce the models for distribution and sales for Jo Han. It was the 1955 Pontiac models that really impressed General Motors because of their great detail (hubcaps). The 1955 Plymouth and De Soto models followed later after contract negations.

file 20150722075601 Jo Han ModelsPromotional Flyer 1955In 1955, a trail run to a nationwide spring sales promotion collaborated with over 40 downtown Detroit merchants, airlines offices and downtown hotels in the Detroit area which featured as part of their regular window displays a set of scale model De Soto. Before the week was through, Detroiters were seeing and talking about the 1955 De Soto models everywhere they went and they became a national phenomenon as Detroit dealers also reported greatly increased showroom crowds.

This sales promotion had a massive positive impact on the company sales volume. In 1956, Jo Han models added Oldsmobile to their line of production models. The 1956 Oldsmobile models were the first Jo Han models available with or without an interior. A remote control model was also offered for the toy store trade during that time.

The years 1957-1959 were great years for the company. A demonstration of the working torsion bar suspension was available for the 1958 Chrysler models and the new contract for a Chrysler model in 1957. Haenle wanted the contract for Cadillac in 1957 because he had owned a Cadillac at the time. By 1958, he had received the contract for Cadillac with Rambler station wagon models and Studebaker Larks in 1959.

file 20150722075711 Jo Han Models1960s Promotional Flyer for Jo HanIn 1958, Jo Han had manufactured a B. F Goodrich tire service truck that was sold to B. F. Goodrich retailers only and is very rare today among collectors. The demand was so great for his models that two assembly lines were needed to keep up with the volume of sales from merchants all over the world because all of your major stores along with auto dealerships and hardware stores carried his products. The purpose for promotional model cars was used to promote the actual cars in dealer show rooms across the country and during announcement time throughout the United States. The year 1959 was also the first year that the popular model (three-in-one) customizing kits became available for many young children and teenagers from around the world.

file 20150722075811 Jo Han Models1967 Plymouth

Haenle informed me that he wanted to see how the AMT Corporation, a competitor, was going to sell their model kits first because they came out with their model kit line in 1958. The 1959 model kits became an overnight sensation that helped increase once again huge profits for Jo Han models. The 1960s continued to be even more prosperous for the company because of the great demand from the consumers.

When Haenle received the contract for the 1963 Chrysler Turbine model by the Chrysler Corporation for promotional and advertising usage and later with the introduction of the model kits, those models out sold any other model in Jo Han's history. Although Mr. Haenle is no longer with us, his legacy and his great contribution to the toy car industry will always be a part of automotive heritage.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of Bob Tate’s Collection. (Bibliography: Doty Dennis. “Jo Han Models Inc. 40th Anniversary” Issue 66 October 1987 Model Car Journal. De Soto Retailer magazine. “1955 De Soto- 1/25th scale” February 1955.)

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