It all started with a second-hand truck.
Even the Great Depression couldn’t stop Leon Hess at age 19 from taking over his father’s bankrupt oil delivery business in New Jersey in 1933.
Hess reorganized the business and drove his 1926 Mack 615-gallon tanker truck seven days a week, delivering heating oil and aggressively underbidding his competition for coveted contracts with a major oil supplier, Federal.
His fleet and his business expanded. Then came World War II. The U.S. Army recognized Hess’ talent for all things petroleum and placed him in charge of fuel distribution under General George S. Patton. Talk about a critical fleet.
“The speed of Patton’s tank attacks was in good measure dependent on fuel that Major Hess provided,” New York Times reporter Gerald Eskenazi writes in Hess’ 1999 obituary.
Hess’ World War II experience taught him even more about the petroleum business. Following the war, he expanded his company’s distribution and storage capacities, acquired a 10,000-ton tanker, built a refinery and opened his first gas station in New Jersey in 1960.
In an effort to build loyalty, Hess’ customers were given small gifts each time they filled up, including small toy trucks. That idea grew—as many ideas did under Hess—to include a larger, but affordable toy replica of Hess’ first B61 Mack truck.
Debuting in 1964 at Hess gas stations, the $1.39 truck came with Eveready batteries that would power headlights and taillights. A supplied funnel made it easy to fill up the tank with water which could be emptied through the truck’s hose.
Hess toy trucks quickly became a Christmas tradition. Through the years, the New York-based company has produced toy trucks and various transportation equipment that’s coveted by collectors. Though Hess sold its gas stations to Marathon in 2014, the trucks can still be purchased through some New Jersey stores and websites.
Avid collectors turn to websites which feature rare trucks and parts to keep those holiday dreams rolling. Hess even started its own toy truck website, hesstoytruck.com, in 2012. The homepage announces the sad news that the 2015 fire truck is sold-out.
However, the original 1964 toy truck is still available, though its original retail price of $1.39 is long gone. This week a truck in its original box with working lights was being offered on eBay for $1,495.
Interestingly enough, though the Hess Corporation may be more known for its toy trucks than its $22 billion petroleum business, the amazing journey all started with a determined 19-year-old and his truck.