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The Mass Media

Hess: The gas company’s strange tradition of selling toys

Tanker+trucks%2C+fire+trucks%2C+a+tanker+ship+and+a+Hess+space+shuttle+were+among+the+toys+Hess+released.

Tanker trucks, fire trucks, a tanker ship and a Hess space shuttle were among the toys Hess released.

Every holiday season brings with it a colossal amount of toys being sold. One line of toys has always stuck out to me — the Hess toys. I have never seen anyone own one or a toy store selling the product. The only reason I know they exist is because there are commercials for them. They are always holiday themed commercials too. Last year’s commercial had a helicopter hovering over a mountain peak when a truck exits the helicopter, drops 20 feet onto the mountain, and navigates down the snowy terrain as smooth as a skier until finally the truck drives off an edge and right back into the helicopter’s cargo bay. As ridiculous as the commercials are, the real thing that boggles the mind is why in the world is Hess, a gasoline company, selling toys?
My preconceived notions were that the Hess company were in dire financial struggles during the oil embargo of the 70s, and they had to branch out to making toys. Alas as amusing as that would be, it is not true. The company started making the toys in 1964. According to the website, Leon Hess “wanted to provide a fun, high quality and affordable toy for families during the holiday season,” so they came out with the Hess tanker truck that could hold water in its tank and can be emptied through a hose on the side. In 1964, the truck sold for $1.29 with batteries included!
Since 1964, the Hess company has put out a toy every year with a few exceptions when the same product was released two years in a row. The Hess toys are labeled a Christmas tradition, and they even have a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They’re considered collectibles. The 1964 tanker that sold for $1.29 could now go for $1,400-$2,000 with a collector. Right now on ebay, it’s going for $2,177 or best offer. So my question on why in the world is a gas company making toys has a simple answer. They tried it once and the product sold well. So the company did it again and again because each year the toys would sell. Now the product is considered a holiday tradition.
Now I have a new question.
How varied could the toy vehicles be if they are based on vehicles in the Hess company? Thankfully, my research to look at every Hess toy released since 1964 was easy and amusing because there is a Hess toy truck website that lists every single release.
I already mentioned the 1964 tanker which can genuinelly be filled up and emptied with a hose. As an 8-year-old, I would definitely think this is cool. As a 28-year-old I think, “Hey, there is nothing saying I can’t fill it up with actual gasoline,” and I can replace my boring red gas can in my trunk with it.
The 1996 toy released was a Hess Tanker Ship, “The Hess Voyager.” OK, again, cool. The ’67 was another tanker truck with different colors. The ’68-69 was another tanker truck exactly like the ’67 tanker with the difference of  “Perth Amboy” replacing “Woodbridge, N.J.” on the tanker. Not cool. Then, 1970 had a replica fire engine from Hess’s Port Reading Refinery. Well, alright, maybe the vehicles won’t be as stagnant as I thought. I was wrong.
The 1972-1974 was the exact same truck tanker from ’67, ’68, and ’69! Really not cool. Another truck tanker in ’75, but a trailer that included barrels. Same thing in ’76 as in ’75 but different colors, and the barrels say “Hess” on them. Lame. A tanker continued in ’77 and ’78.
Finally, in 1980 there was the “Hess Training Van.” A replica of the actual Hess training van which went around Hess gas stations to conduct field training. Why did a van have to go around stations to train people how to pick up a hose and put it in a gas tank was a question my research did not answer. Let’s just assume all that hair spray in the 80s made people really stupid.
The 80s contained tanker trucks, a fire truck, and in ’88 a truck with a Hess race car on its bed. This began the trend of Hess making toys that definitely were not in the company. They did the race car and truck again in ’91 and ‘92 and in ’93, a Hess police car. The first helicopter came in ’95 and ’98 was a Hess RV containing a buggy and a motorcycle. In 1999, Hess released the toy that was the shark jumper. A Hess toy truck and space shuttle with satellite! The website says it was to “celebrate the 35th anniversary and the 21st century.” Hess should of made a Hess mp3 player if they wanted to celebrate the 21st century. Space shuttles have been around since the 60s when they started making the toys.
I didn’t think anything could beat the space shuttle and nothing did, but the Hess monster truck in ’07 came close and so did the jet plane in 2010.
I began looking into why Hess sells toys and how different could the toy be each year. I discovered people are willing to buy all sorts of crap. I look forward to 2017 Hess’s Death Star.