Lincoln Logs are an iconic toy that entertained generations of children. We built cabins and forts with the simple interconnecting logs, a toy that was invented in 1916 and named after President Lincoln’s famous childhood home. For 60 years, the toy sets were made in China. But recently, they were reshored and are now Made in the USA. When the toy celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016, Lincoln Logs were rolling off an assembly line in Maine.
Lincoln Logs are made by K’Nex. About 10 years ago, the company decided to try to bring back some of its toy manufacturing to the U.S. At that time, 80 percent of its toys were made in China and only 20 percent were made in the United States. Today, 90% of K’Nex toys, like Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys are Made in the USA.
How did K’Nex do it? It wasn’t easy. The company ran into some of the same problems that others face when they reshore. So much manufacturing has left that companies have a hard time finding suppliers that can make the parts they need. In this case, a wood manufacturing company that could make the wooden logs was hard to find. U.S. wood manufacturers weren’t set up to make small products like Lincoln Logs, or they didn’t have the right equipment or they would have a hard time meeting child toy safety standards. K’Nex even considered making the logs out of plastic instead of wood, but children rejected that. Lincoln Logs had to be wood. After years of searching, they found a company in Maine that could made the wooden logs: Pride Manufacturing.
Hundreds or thousands of jobs can be created when companies reshore manufacturing. According to the Reshoring Initiative, companies like Ford, Caterpillar, General Electric, General Motors and others created thousands of jobs by moving production from overseas or Mexico to the United States. Unfortunately, most of the time, the number of jobs created is dozens, not hundreds or thousands.
Pride Manufacturing put in new machines and hired workers to make Lincoln Logs in Maine. But the log contract only generated 10 jobs. That’s right, only 10 jobs. That’s because American factories have more automation and robots and are usually more efficient. And therein lies the real good news of this story: U.S. companies can compete against low wage nations because of the productivity of the American worker. Making products smarter and with higher quality leads to profits, says K’Nex CEO Michael Aratan.