For Christmas This Year, The Hess Truck’s Here
Did you know that Leon Hess, of the famous green and white Hess design, was born in New Jersey in 1914? (New Jersey gets a bad rap and we’ll take all the celebrity we can get, alright? Incidentally, it’s a lot of celebrity.)
But Leon Hess did what most children of the depression had to do. He hustled. Unable to afford college, he bought a second-hand truck and in 1933 began delivering fuel oil to homes all around New Jersey. In the subsequent years, the Hess company would grow and expand, until Leon Hess opened his first gas station in 1960.
It was around then that Leon decided Hess would be a brand for the family consumer and to prove it, he wanted to offer high-quality, innovative toys that children of all ages would enjoy. From the very start, the Hess Truck would come with batteries included, a promise that has lasted for over fifty years, along with the brand’s dedication to families and the holiday spirit.
The very first Hess Toy Truck produced was the 1964 Hess Tanker Trailer, a replica of the company’s first B61 Mack Truck and Trailer. At the time, the little truck that could wasn’t just a delight, it was an innovation. The headlights and taillights worked, operated by a small switch in the cab, and the funnel and rubber hose that came with the toy could be used to fill up the cargo tank. (And siphon it out…)
The several years from announcement to production were not a fluke for Hess, but a staple. Each of their cars and trucks would undergo annual development processes that took 2-3 years from design to production, and sometimes the better half of a decade to go from conception to the market. Each truck, plane, and boat is made up of 75-100 individual pieces that require the production of new tools and molds. And, like its real-life automotive peers, Hess scrapped many designs over the years, some forever, and some remodeled for later Christmas favorites.
The Hess trucks were a success from the start. What Hess would become so known for in subsequent years, however, would remain absent for nearly two decades. There were to be no television or major radio ads for the now emblematic trucks until the 1980s. Instead, they were advertised mostly in newspapers and at the gas stations where they were sold, simple, humble, back to basics, just like Leon himself. In the beginning, their television ads were unique and festive, retellings of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and other holiday staples. But that wouldn’t last long.
Because in 1988 that the now famous Hess Truck song graced holiday audiences across the country. Adapting the classic song “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels, the Hess Truck returned every holiday season to a catchy and newly-created version of “The Hess Truck’s Back.” In fact, the song is so catchy, some people have had it stuck in their heads since it first aired in 1988. (Don’t believe it? Go ahead and watch twenty minutes of old Hess Truck commercials on YouTube and you’ll find your skin is starting to turn white and green…)
Like many others of yesteryear, Hess came into the modern day, acknowledging that their trucks had become a brand unto themselves and creating easy ways to buy and gift them. The commercials continued to roll and Hess Trucks jumped into the digital age with apps, games and online fun for truck-loving kids across the country.
Leon Hess died in 1999 at the age of 85. He got to see the little green and white logos across screens all over America. He got to see the endurance of his legacy high and low, spreading Christmas cheer to all the good little car girls and guys.
Even still, if he were alive today, Leon Hess would no doubt be pleased with the Hess Trucks of the modern world. Though a great many eras, car designs, and industry changes have passed in the years since Leon Hess first bought his second-hand truck, the company has never lost its origin story. It has never strayed away from the kindness and spirit of a man who simply wanted to give parents the chance to buy inexpensive, but well-made gifts for the holidays.
Hess Trucks have become a symbol of Christmas spirit. The song fits in beside Jingle Bell Rock and Frosty the Snowman, and Hess Truck commercials are still filled with smiling, singing children decked out in green. Yes, car styles have changed. The 2017 Hess Dump Truck and Loader looks very different from the 1964 Mack Truck. Times change. They always have and they always will.
But maybe, when it comes to Hess Trucks, they won’t change that much from Leon Hess’s original dream. After all, they’re still just as much of a symbol of Christmas as ever. It even still comes with batteries included. Imagine that.
Images selected from HessToyTruck.com.