Mary Anne, the steam shovel

Mary Anne, the steam shovel

Digging up Childhood Memories

As I've so often said, I'm addicted to industrial equipment romanticized as children’s toys. This glorious steam shovel is yet another example.

Though it's a little different, this toy resembles Mary Anne, the heroine of the classic book, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  The story, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton and first published in 1939, is worth a read or re-read.     

Much as Little Toot celebrated tug boats, and The Little Engine that Could preached perseverance through positive thinking, Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, also glorified the mechanical workhorses of the time.  All three books were written or became popular in the 1930s.  All are still popular today.  What's particularly poignant about Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, is that Mary Anne is already a relic – made obsolete by gas and diesel-powered shovels.  It's up to Mike Mulligan to prove Mary Anne (and Mike himself) is still relevant in a rapidly changing world.

In 1990 HBO aired Michael Sporn’s faithful adaption of Mary Anne’s sweet story:

Or watch this charming amateur stop-action version:

And, of course, you can check out the book from your local library or buy it here »

Or here »

Or here »

As I mentioned, my toy steam shovel is a near perfect representation of Mary Anne except that mine is a riding model.  So I can pretend she's Mary Anne's sister.

It is surmised that Mary Anne was named after the Marion Steam Shovel Company, founded in Marion, Ohio by G.W. King in 1884.  These links to the U.S. Park Service and the Ohio Historical Society provide wonderful visuals and factual information about the company.

While I was researching this blog I came across an article regarding Fred Lundahl, the founder of Buddy L toys.  It includes a photo of his son (nicknamed Buddy L.), playing with a steam shovel very similar to mine. 

My virtually complete, rusted steam shovel was made by the Buddy L Toy company around 1926.  Click here for a photo from the Smithsonian’s collection which shows a Buddy L Steam Shovel in excellent condition.

The Buddy L Toy Company started out as the Moline Pressed Steel Company.  It fabricated bumpers, door panels, etc., for auto and truck manufacturers.  As the story goes, Mr. Lundahl was appalled at the poor quality of toys available for his son to play with.  On a whim he made a truck for his son, and soon all the other kids in the neighborhood wanted one.  

In 1921 he made a few more trucks and car prototypes and off he went to a toy show in New York.  The response was so overwhelming he retooled his shop to make stamped steel toys under the name Buddy L Toy Company in honor of his son.

I couldn't find a reference documenting any correspondence between the Marion Steam Shovel Company and Buddy L, but I wouldn't be surprised if these two companies collaborated on the toy version of Marion’s steam shovels.

Here are a few more photos of toy steam shovels:

I hope you dig them as much as I do.

Found Objects Ltd.