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The Toy That Starts the Holiday Season

Even though many homes already display bright lights or pine wreaths and most stores are stocked to the gills with Christmas merchandise, some folks can’t quite begin the holiday season until they see the latest Hess toy truck. Hess Toy Truck: 2003 Toy Truck and Race Cars, Amerada Hess Corporation, from the collection of Strong National Museum of PlayEvery year since 1964, Hess Corporation, a gasoline and automotive products retailer, has offered a new and different toy truck or vehicle for the holiday season. People of every age admire the trucks for their (mostly) familiar green and white Hess colors, their exquisite detail, and their battery-powered action. The best part? Batteries are always included! The company Web site credits founder Leon Hess with the idea for the first holiday toy truck. Hess wanted a toy for his oil company to use as a thank-you gift to his loyal customers. A chance conversation at a baseball stadium with a toymaker gave Hess his manufacturer. Production of each truck is limited to one year and the vehicle usually appears in November. But, because Hess demands the highest quality and detail, it takes about three years from concept to finished product.

Hess Monster Truck with Motorcycles, 2007, Amerada Hess Corporation, from the collection of Strong National Museum of PlayThe Hess truck tradition started with a B MACK Tanker complete with a tank that could be filled with water and emptied through its delivery hose. Hess offered 150,000 toys in 1964 at a price of $1.29, and gas stations around the country quickly sold out their inventory. In the years since, Hess has offered many more trucks, a seafaring oil tanker, fire trucks, training vans, patrol cars, truck and helicopter, and even a truck and space shuttle. Hess also introduced a line of miniature vehicles in 1998. This year, Hess offers a race car (with 29 lights, sounds of ignition, acceleration, and a horn, and chrome detail on the rear view mirrors and air vents) and a miniature racer (sporting 15 lights, chrome vents and rearview mirrors, and low profile headlights). Many truck collectors remember the annual commercials that announce the arrival of each year’s model: “The Hess truck is back, and it’s better than ever!” Or, they wait to see the Hess toy truck float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Hess Helicopter with Motorcycle and Cruiser, 2001, Amerada Hess Corporation, from the collection of Strong National Museum of Play

Are you a Hess toy truck collector? Or did you receive the trucks when you were a kid? If you have a Hess truck memory, let us know. We’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, we wish you the very best of the holiday season and a happy and prosperous new year.