What happened to Tyco RC and trains?

Tyco is a name I certainly remember from my childhood. While I never had either of them, many people my age had Tyco slot cars and/or a Tyco train set growing up. If you’re wondering what happened to Tyco, or what happened to Tyco RC, Tyco trains, or Tyco slot cars, read on.

When I think of Tyco, I think of slot cars and trains. Tyco went out with a bang with one last monster Christmas in 1996, and it had nothing at all to do with trains or slot cars. Rather, it involved a brightly colored furry monster that giggled a lot.

No Connection to Tyco International

That monster Christmas didn’t involve stock fraud or other illegal things. Tyco International had a stock fraud scandal in 2002, but that was a different Tyco from the toy company. By the time Tyco International, the healthcare and security conglomerate, ran into legal problems, Tyco the toy company was already gone. Tyco International was into a lot of different things, but never toys.

It might be good for Tyco Toys that it didn’t have to deal with a like-named company scandal.

What happened to Tyco Toys?

what happened to Tyco
Tyco thrived for decades selling slot car sets like this vintage 1977 set. Image credit: Joe Haupt 

Tyco, the venerable maker of HO scale trains, slot cars, and R/C cars, merged with toy giant Mattel in 1997. Mattel retained the Tyco R/C product name for about 15 years. It now brands them with other Mattel-owned names.

What happened to Tyco trains?

Parents tend to buy their kids toys they liked, or would have liked, and that kept Tyco alive through the 1980s and into the 1990s. Children of the 50s tended to buy Tyco trains for their kids. Tyco trains were smaller than Lionel but Tyco went out of its way to replicate Lionel’s selection of action accessories. In some ways, 1980s Tyco trains more closely captured the spirit of postwar Lionel than Lionel’s own 1980s trains. Tyco discontinued its trains in 1993.

What happened to Tyco slot cars?

Tyco made slot cars too, so they had a product for children of the 60s to buy their kids too. Tyco slot cars and Tyco trains were staples of Christmas catalogs for decades, and my cousin and I wore out more than one Tyco slot car set in his basement growing up. Mattel continues to sell slot cars but uses the name Electric Hot Wheels, rather than Tyco. So Tyco slot cars didn’t really go away. It’s more like they became part of the Hot Wheels empire.

Tyco diversification and industry consolidation

what happened to Tyco slot cars?
The hit toy Tickle Me Elmo raised Tyco’s profile, and probably helped make it an acquisition target as well.

During the 1990s the toy industry consolidated tremendously. For the first half of the decade, Tyco was a buyer. It bought several old-line toy companies including Ideal, Matchbox, and Illco. The Illco acquisition proved pivotal.

Illco’s Sesame Street line led to the hugely popular Tickle Me Elmo, which was the most popular children’s toy of 1996. It was a plush doll with an electronic voice and sensor. When you touched it, the recorded voice of Elmo would laugh uncontrollably and then say, “That tickles.”

Retailers would get a shipment in, hordes of consumers would descend, and the stock would disappear in minutes. I remember seeing signs on utility poles offering Tickle Me Elmo toys for sale at outrageous prices. An appearance on the Rosie O’Donnell show in October caused the 400,000 units in stores to sell out quickly. Tyco rushed another 600,000 units onto the market and had to issue rain checks for more. First-year sales topped a million units.

By the mid 1990s, Tyco wasn’t the company I remember. It was bad for nostalgia, maybe, but good business. Elmo agrees. And Elmo really was the end of the line Mattel bought Tyco in March 1997.

The diversification that Tyco underwent in the early 90s was probably what made Tyco attractive to Mattel. After the acquisition, Mattel transferred the former Tyco lines into other divisions, such as Fisher-Price.

So Tyco didn’t really go away. It simply integrated into the much larger Mattel and the name slowly faded out. There aren’t very many US toymakers left anymore. Part of the reason for that is Mattel bought so many of them. And some of them found their way to Mattel via Tyco.

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