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Alison Sofield - Volunteer Collections, Whangarei Museum


Humans have always liked to be able to get about faster than their feet would permit. 

The number of vehicles on the road every day now is testament to this.  The invention of the wheel around 3000 B.C. for use initially on chariots began a trend that has persisted through history.

Recently, I discovered a wheeled item in the Whangarei Museum’s collection that took me back to my childhood during World War 2. A glorious red two wheeled scooter, complete with braking mechanism made by Triang N.Z. Ltd, a subsidiary of Lines Brothers, England. The scooter came from a collection owned by Tracee Ripley. His collection was donated to the Whangarei Museum. Mr Rapley set up his own museum of old toys at his home in Mains Avenue and people could visit by appointment.

Lines Brothers was founded by brothers Walter, William and Arthur when they returned from World War 1. Triang became their trademark since a triangle was made of three lines.

The company grew quickly and soon became known as the largest toy company in the world. However, the traditional business model could not keep up with the times and the business folded in 1971. Competition from Asian and American companies with cheaper plastic toys were soon flooding the market. This trend can be seen in business today, sadly.

The family business of toy making had begun in the 1850s when the brothers’ father, Joseph Lines, started using wood to make his toys, with his specialty being wooden horses which came in all sizes right up to full size which were used as advertising in shops selling saddlery. The young Lines brothers were anxious to branch out into other toy products and Walter is credited with inventing the scooter However, this was a bit revolutionary for his Dad who thought this idea that children might enjoy a moving toy was neither sound nor desirable.

When the brothers returned from service in World War 1 they set up their own business with Walter in charge of the design process. The brothers were very entrepreneurial and were keen to expand even further. They realized they used lots of paint in their toy factory so they bought a paint company. Then they used paper in their packaging so they bought a paper company and forestry to grow their own trees. They then branched out into owning their own shops to sell their toys. The brothers began to look further afield and set up branch companies in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Their range of toys expanded to include Pedigree dolls, doll houses, model aircraft, construction sets, model railways, tricycles, clockwork vehicles, pedal cars, etc. Lines Brothers took over Meccano Company in the mid 1960s and incorporated their products into their Triang brand.

This rapid expansion had its downside as businesses such as Lines Brothers became unwieldy to manage. The proliferation of huge conglomerates in America such as Quaker Oats and General Mills who were seeking to diversify and get into the cheap plastic and diecast toy business really spelt the end for this family business.

I recall vividly my joy at receiving a second hand, repainted Triang scooter for Christmas during the hard years of the World War 2 and my pride at being able to ride it down the street to the envy of others kids. How things have changed nowadays with electric scooters driven by adults happy to be whizzing round city streets. Then there are the spinoffs such as skateboards, snowboards, hover boards and of course the Segway. I’d be a starter for one of those!!!