John William “Jack” Odell, OBE (19 March 1920 – 7 July 2007) was the inventor of Matchbox toys and the engineer responsible for their unique design. He joined with partners Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith (not related) to form Lesney Products.
The company initially made small products for cars such as dashboards and doorhandles. Odell designed a small steamroller in 1952 for his daughter to take to school. The school had issued the edict that any toys bought to school must fit into a matchbox, it proved to be a big hit for her and he was soon asked to produce more for her friends.
The company started manufacturing small toys to meet the demand the first 3 vehicles were introduced in 1953
By 1966, more than 100 million Matchbox toys were sold each year. Odell retired from Lesney in 1973 but returned in 1981 when Lesney ran into financial problems. The company was declared insolvent in 1982 and sold to Universal Toys.
Jack went on to found Lledo, a small diecast vehicle model manufacturing company, and was active in that business until 1999 when he retired. Odell had Parkinson’s disease and died in July 2007.
Mr Paul Carr (Lesney Employee):
It was not until the later (Lledo) years that I got to know Jack Odell and he even knew me by name which was a joke among Lesney employees because he forgot peoples names and would ask you your name, he was a great engineer and real ‘mans man’. When I worked at the Tottenham toolroom he brought in the radiator from his Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow to do some brazing to repair a leak because the RR garage wanted a ridiculous amount for them to repair it, at the time he was a multi millionaire.