The father of Hot Wheels toy cars and co-founder of Mattel toy company, Elliot Handler, died last Thursday at age 95 from heart failure, according to the New York Times. Both a talented designer and successful entrepreneur, Handler brought us such toy icons as Barbie and Chatty Cathy. However, his greatest contribution to the toy world for auto aficionados might be his later creation, Hot Wheels toy cars.

Born in 1916, Handler began his career sculpting light fixtures after studying industrial design at California's Art Center College of Design. His big break came in 1939, when Handler and wife Ruth started making costume jewelry and dollhouse furniture in the garage of their Southern California home. There, he and partner Harold "Matt" Matson formed Mattel toys - a name derived from the combination of Matt and Elliot.

After seeing wild sales success with his dolls, Handler turned his attention to die-cast toy cars. Mattel enlisted the help of designers from automakers like GM to reinvent the toy car. This led to the invention of a manufacturing process for fast-spinning plastic wheels. Handler called his new product "Hot Wheels" when the toy line arrived on store shelves in 1968. In the more-than-40 years since the toy's introduction, over 10,000 unique Hot Wheels models have been produced, including such famous designs as "King 'Kuda," the "Beatnik Bandit," and "Evil Weevil."

"He loved coming up with new cars," said his brother, Sid Handler. "He was a quiet, kind man. I think that's why he liked [designing] toys so much. They make people happy."

We tend to agree with that last sentiment. Like many auto enthusiasts, our fascination with cars began with toys like Hot Wheels. One of the highlights of our collective childhood was seeing those colorful, outrageously styled, chrome-laden cars glistening in the package every time we went to the store. And when mom let us pick one out to take home, life was most certainly good. Thanks for all the memories, Mr. Handler.

Source: New York Times