Tonka's name is an homage to Lake Minnetonka

Mound Metalcraft was Tonka's original moniker in 1946, established in Mound, Minnesota, where a 3 man startup focused on manufacturing gardening tools using WWII surplus machinery, tools and materials. A local company (Streater Industries) successfully approached the trio with toy patents it had developed for sale, and Mound Metalcraft began making toys on the side under the Tonka Toys moniker in 1947; taking it's name from the Dakota Sioux word "Tanka" meaning "great" or "big."

Those 3 seagulls represented founders Lynn Everett Baker (1898–1964), Avery F. Crounse, and Alvin F. Tesch, with the waves representing Lake Minnetonka. Apocryphal tales say early Tonka Toys were made from WWII surplus 20 gauge steel, whatever they were made from it was hardy enough to endure decades of use and abuse leading to generations of children constructing dreams with imagination, sound effects, voice overs and Tonka Toys.

Image: Toy Tonka Truck from 1970's | TireZoo – flickr(CC BY 2.0)

Tonka would grow over the years to include an impressive catalog of iconic brands like GoBots and Pound Puppies, and it's purchase of Kenner added popular brands: Play Doh, Care Bears, Nerf balls, and the Ouija board.

Desperate to find a solution to Tonka's dwindling market share, CEO Shank hired four executives away from the Mattel toy company in 1983. Then Tonka licensed a robot toy from Bandai, the largest Japanese toy maker. Bandai had attempted to sell the robot in the United States in 1980, but was unable to make its product appealing to U.S. children. The Mattel executives helped conceive a story line around the robots, which were marketed under the name GoBots. The GoBots' trick was that they were actually two toys in one. The robots, who came in good and evil teams, could disguise themselves as various vehicles such as airplanes and motorcycles. When the toy plane was unfolded, it revealed its robot avatar. All of the GoBots had names and personalities attached to them. Introduced with television advertising, the GoBots soon had their own television show and comic book series. Tonka also licensed a slew of tie-in products such as GoBot lunch boxes and watches. Introduced in January 1984, by the end of the year GoBots had sales of close to $100 million, and Tonka had its first profit in three years.

Despite its great success with GoBots, Tonka still was struggling to find a long-term strategy. Fad toys such as GoBots could bring in huge sales, but they had many costs, too, such as intensive advertising. And GoBots soon were imitated by Hasbro's Transformers, similar robots licensed from another Japanese toy maker, Takara. Competition between the two robot lines split the market, and Tonka had to be ready with the next big thing to keep up its sales momentum. Tonka introduced Pound Puppies in 1985, a soft dog toy that children "adopted" when they bought it. The adoption ploy was borrowed from Cabbage Patch dolls, which had been all the rage a few years earlier. Pound Puppies sold well, and Tonka's sales and earnings seemed in good shape, more than doubling between 1984 and 1987, to $293 million. Pound Puppies accounted for more than half of the company's profits in 1986. But by 1987 Pound Puppies had lost their hold on the market, and profits skidded, dropping almost 70 percent in the first half of the year.

Tonka Corporation – Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Tonka Corporation

Tonka would purchase Kenner for $622 million in 1987, saddling the company with debt that contributed heavily to a cascade of failures ultimately leading to Hasbro purchasing Tonka for $485 million in 1991, thus ending an independence streak whose genesis story began with a 3 man startup near Lake Minnetonka.