The Testor Corporation has been manufacturing products for hobby, craft, and home decorating for more than eight decades. Since 1929, the oval Testor logo has been associated with quality and integrity. Testor hobby finishing materials and accessories, plastic model kits, craft paints and supplies, and airbrushes are sold world-wide, satisfying the demand for these fine products. Testor currently staffs a manufacturing facility in Rockford.
Testor molds and packages its own plastic model kits; formulates and packages a broad range of paints and adhesives; designs and manufactures airbrushes and accessories; and employs a well-trained sales staff for distribution of Testor products around the world.
Back in 1929, however, things were a bit different. Nils F. Testor, a young Swedish immigrant, had recently purchased the assets of a small Rockford company making an adhesive product called “Karlson's Klister.”
Klister was an adhesive made for mending women's stockings. As the glue became more popular other applications were developed and, shortly before Testor became involved, Klister was chiefly used by local cobblers for making and repairing shoes.
As the result of poor management and growing debt the young company fell on hard times. Axel Karlson, the founder, sold his interest in the firm and returned to Sweden. Nils Testor recognized the need for this kind of adhesive, stepped in and took over what was soon to become the Testor Chemical Company.
Testor quickly realized that this product would be useful in a wide variety of applications and began to market the glue as “Crystal Clear Household Cement.” The adhesive was still sold in bulk to the shoe repairmen, but it was now beginning to carve a niche for itself on the home front. Household Cement was—and still is—used to mend china, glassware, leather goods, and any number of common household products. Glue sales increased dramatically and became so popular that, for many years, Testor and glue were virtually synonymous. Even now, the Testor Consumer Relations Department frequently receives mail from folks who have been using Household Cement for decades. Technologies may evolve over time but good ones survive and the demand for this cement is as strong as ever before!
From 1929 to 1936, cement was the only Testor product, but the Testor Chemical Company began to prosper. With this new-found financial security came new goods. In 1936, the company became directly involved with the hobby industry for the first time. The introduction of model cement and butyrate dope manufactured specifically for the hobbyist was the beginning of an involvement with the hobby industry that was to grow and solidify over the years. The Hobby Industry of America was formed in 1940 and the Testor Chemical Company was a founding member. Testor products were now selling very well—the company was building a solid base and a complete product line.
After nearly a decade of growth and relative prosperity, the early 1940s brought hardship on two different fronts.
First, the war produced a shortage of raw materials in general, and chemicals in particular were scarce. Without chemicals, of course, Testor had trouble maintaining production of its adhesive and coatings lines. Business began to slow down. A solution, in part, was found in a Mexican pine forest. This wood was plentiful—soft, and easy to cut and form. Used woodworking machinery was purchased and Testor began manufacturing scale, wooden models of famous airplanes. These static models were extremely popular during the war and Testor was able to sustain growth in spite of chemical shortages.
Then another kind of disaster struck in 1944. In the early morning hours of February 1, fire broke out and virtually destroyed the main building at 620 Buckbee Street. The third and fourth floors of the four-story brick structure were completely gutted and water ruined machines and other costly equipment below. The damage was estimated at well over $200,000, an enormous amount of money at the time.
At this point it was difficult to be optimistic about the Testor future, but Nils Testor wasn't ready to call it quits just yet. Indeed, he was determined to forge ahead and build a larger and even better facility. Which he did. Within a year his company was well on its way to a full recovery.
In the late 1940s, raw materials again became readily available. The Testor product line grew to include new adhesives for plastics, and a line of enamel paints for hobbies and crafts. Balsa wood was another commodity that had been used exclusively by the government during the war. After the war, the capacity for cultivating balsa remained but requirements for the lightweight, porous woods were nonexistent. At the same time, demand for static models dropped off while interest in flying models was growing. Making use of the supply of available balsa, Testor began producing inexpensive flying airplanes.
The new Testor toy glider was an overnight success. In addition to using balsa for the toy planes, Testor also imported balsa for custom model builders. Sheet, board, and strip stock turned up in hobby shops all over the country—for a number of years Testor was the single largest user of balsawood in the world!
Another milestone in the growth of The Testor Corporation was the acquisition of Duro-Matic Products, makers of the well-known McCoy hobby engine. In 1949 Mr. Testor met Charles D. Miller, then president of that firm, and the two men decided to jointly market their products. Testor airplanes would be designed to accept McCoy engines and, in turn, the engines were set up to use Testor props and fuel. This arrangement worked and thousands of planes and engines were sold.
Sales of Testor enamels, hobby cements, gliders, and engines continued to rise in the next ten years and a series of paint-by-number kits was particularly successful during the 1960s. Polystyrene plastic kits were now dominating the model industry and Testor finishing materials became standard “workbench” accessories. Every ten year-old boy in America was familiar with Testor Cement for Plastic Models. Testor enamel was reformulated specifically for use with polystyrene, indicating the firm’s commitment to hobbies.
Furthering that commitment, Testor purchased two plastic kit companies in the early 1970s—IMC and The Hawk Model Company. Each firm was well-known and highly esteemed for producing top quality, scale models. In 1975 Testor, undertook an ambitious marketing program. A packaging concept was developed to run throughout this line of merchandise—all kits would be refined and boxed to reflect the quality of the product. This program has resulted in many hobby industry packaging awards.
Another benchmark product line was launched in 1981. As Testor gained market share in the growing discount store arena, local retail hobby shops, the traditional outlet for Testor products, needed a boost. Model Master™ “professional” hobby paints and accessories were created to fulfill the needs of these specialty retailers. By developing Model Master, Testor had now successfully tiered the market with special products for the two major kinds of outlets. Model Master, now the premier enthusiast’s brand name, is a major profit center for all hobby retailers.
The cornerstone of the Testor line remains its first hobby product—enamel paint. Versatile Testor paint is distributed worldwide and dominates the hobby finishing business. Testor also has developed a broad color range of certified non-toxic water wash-up paints—brand named Acryl®—to satisfy the demand for those coatings. Acryl is the easiest-to-apply water wash-up paint on the market…it’s high-gloss luster is beyond compare.
Testor has become a major player in the airbrush industry with the addition of Aztek products to its line. From basic instruments to the most sophisticated brushes on the market, Testor makes an airbrush to meet the needs of all consumers. Aztek airbrushes are easier to use and clean than any other airbrush and the Aztek line is now a major part of this exciting 100-year old industry.
Testor also makes a selection of hobby paints directed specifically to the model railroader under the Floquil™ and Polly S™ brand names. They perform superbly when either brushed-on or airbrushed.
For household use, Testor manufactures a wide variety of consumer goods directed to the craft industry and home decoration. Water wash-up and enamel paints, sprayers, and enamel Paint Markers comprise the Testor range for artists, crafters, and the do-it-yourself markets.
The Testor story expands, chapter by chapter, and the future is bright. Good, wholesome, educational leisure-time activities strengthen the fabric of our society and Testor is proud to be part of these efforts.