If you turn on your TV in the next few days here in the United States, you’ll no doubt find the film “A Christmas Story” somewhere on your dial. But today we bring you a different kind of Christmas story from the annals of Air Cargo and manufacturing history.
We’re not entirely sure where the photo below was taken, but we have a good idea of when. This happy Federal Express employee is holding a Teddy Ruxpin doll, one of the hottest toys of the 1985 Christmas season and beloved by both children and air cargo operators alike. This is probably November of that year.
The talking animatronic bear used cassettes to tell stories to children, who could read along with accompanying books. The first semi-interactive toy of its kind, Teddy Ruxpin was an instant hit for the company which created it, Worlds of Wonder (stock symbol: WOW) and hundreds of thousands were pre-sold even before the bear’s debut. He didn’t come cheap, either retailing at $70, about $150 in today’s dollars.
“WOW” was based in California, but the actual bears were made in Hong Kong, which is where the air cargo connection comes in. In the 1980s, many toys, from Matchbox-sized toy cars to much more sophisticated items like Teddy Ruxpin, were still made in Hong Kong. Emphasis on “still” – because the Chinese economic reforms of 1978 and 1984 saw industrial migration to the Pearl River delta and other locations. Hong Kong’s transition to a service and financial economy accelerated in the 1980s and 90s. Manufacturing, which represented almost a quarter of Hong Kong’s economy in the late 1970s, fell to about 17% of the economy by 1990. In 2011 it was just 1.6% according to the Hong Kong SAR Census and Statistics Department.
The transfer in production didn’t mean much for Air Cargo, however, as goods produced in places like Guangzhou and Shenzhen still flowed through Kai Tak if being transported by air. With the bears being “born” in Hong Kong and needing to get quickly to stores in North America, large shipments of the toys (though not all of them) ended up on aircraft. And as you can see, Teddy Ruxpin was not a small toy.
In 1985, Federal Express did not have much of a presence in Asia, so it is likely that some Teddy Ruxpins are connecting here from another carrier, possibly Flying Tigers, which had a large presence in Hong Kong in the 1980s. It’s hard to tell but the aircraft appears to be numbered “305” – probably N305FE (msn: 47870), a DC-10-30F originally built for Lauda Air in 1980 but not taken up, and then delivered essentially new to FedEx in September, 1984 and sold to Cielos Del Peru in 2003.
After Worlds of Wonder went under, Teddy Ruxpin was taken up by Hasbro until the mid-1990s and later, Yes! Entertainment in 1998, and a company called Backpack Toys in 2005. These newer Teddys were manufactured, you guessed it, on the mainland.