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How a Volkswagen Bus component inspired the KONG dog toy empire

If you are among the millions of American households who adopted a dog during the past 12 months, you’re likely familiar with the KONG toy, a hollow, rugged rubber cone that can be filled with treats. It seems like a perfect shape for chewing – but that wasn’t its first purpose. In 1970, KONG inventor…

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If you are among the millions of American households who adopted a dog during the past 12 months, you’re likely familiar with the KONG toy, a hollow, rugged rubber cone that can be filled with treats. It seems like a perfect shape for chewing – but that wasn’t its first purpose.

In 1970, KONG inventor Joe Markham owned an auto repair shop in downtown Denver that was prone to burglary. “It wasn’t a great area at the time,” says company president K.D. Decker.

Frustrated, the 25-year-old auto mechanic turned to the police, requesting more patrols in the area, but his request was denied due to budget cuts. The officers at his local precinct recommended an alternative: Get a guard dog.

Coincidentally, Markham knew of a pup that needed a home and could be had for free. Fritz, a lovable German Shepard, had just flunked out of the police academy’s canine division for “excessive chewing.”

A dog lover, Markham jumped at the chance to rescue a fine animal that would also deliver a security system to his shop.

Markham never regretted his decision to adopt Fritz, but soon after adopting him discovered the scope of the dog’s chewing addiction. Fritz would chew on anything he found, but he especially liked rocks,” says Decker. As a result, he was grinding away his teeth. Markham tried everything from animal bones to radiator hoses attempting to curb the dog’s behavior.

KONG founder Joe Markham’s auto shop.

Nothing worked; Fritz tore everything up and went back to rocks.

“Joe turned to veterinarians and other dog behavior experts to try to take care of the problem,” says Decker. “He hit dead ends at every turn.”

Then one day, while working on a customer’s late 1960s Volkswagen Type 2 Bus, Markham heard Fritz going crazy. With the vehicle’s suspension in a state of disassembly, the chew-crazy canine had gotten hold of a bulbous rubber axle stop that had rolled away from the parts pile 1. And he wasn’t tearing it up.

The pliable yet tough nature of the rubber and its shape made the stop ideal for a dog like Fritz – strong enough to survive under his powerful bite, yet soft enough not to damage his teeth. It made Markham think: “This would be a good dog toy.”

The Volkswagen rubber axle stop that inspired the KONG toy’s shape.

Markham spent the next six years experimenting with the rubber composition, size, and shape of the toy. He even contacted Volkswagen to buy the parts in bulk but couldn’t reach the right person. So, he turned to rubber experts in Germany to finalize the right chemistry and composition. “He wanted to be associated with German build quality and engineering,” says Decker.

Markham settled on a design very similar to the axle stop. It had a rounder, closed top that made it bounce more like an animal trying to escape a predator. “Dogs love that,” says Decker.

Markham started selling the snowman-shaped KONG in 1976. It was an instant hit, and today millions of KONG toys have found homes with dogs around the world – thanks to one dog who just wouldn’t stop chewing on part of a Volkswagen.

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Toyota Motor Corporation works to develop and manufacture innovative, safe and high-quality products and services that create happiness by providing mobility for all. We believe that true achievement comes from supporting our customers, partners, employees, and the communities in which we operate. Since our founding over 80 years ago in 1937, we have applied our…

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Toyota Motor Corporation works to develop and manufacture innovative, safe and high-quality products and services that create happiness by providing mobility for all. We believe that true achievement comes from supporting our customers, partners, employees, and the communities in which we operate. Since our founding over 80 years ago in 1937, we have applied our Guiding Principles in pursuit of a safer, greener and more inclusive society. Today, as we transform into a mobility company developing connected, automated, shared and electrified technologies, we also remain true to our Guiding Principles and many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to help realize an ever-better world, where everyone is free to move.

SDGs Initiatives https://global.toyota/en/sustainability/sdgs/

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Orchard business blossoms with Hilux help

It’s late Sunday afternoon on one of the warmest spring days of the year. The ground looks dry and is already beginning to crack. Songbirds and bees compete for attention as the low sun gently warms thousands of blossoming apple trees on a south-facing hillside in the heart of Kent.But with unseasonably low temperatures in…

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It’s late Sunday afternoon on one of the warmest spring days of the year. The ground looks dry and is already beginning to crack. Songbirds and bees compete for attention as the low sun gently warms thousands of blossoming apple trees on a south-facing hillside in the heart of Kent.

But with unseasonably low temperatures in the overnight weather forecast, the race is on to protect a 75-acre orchard from frost damage. One way to do this is to make sure the grass between each row of trees is kept short. This helps to increase airflow and reduces the chance of cold air settling. 

Claire Seymour, 43, gently edges her Toyota Hilux between a row of trees at Tubslake Farm, near Hawkhurst in Kent. Her pick-up’s white paintwork and red signwriting match the flowering pink and white Braeburn apple blossom. Her husband, Steve Bowles, also 43, then sets about unloading a large green Fendt 209V tractor from an enormous six-wheeled flat-bed trailer behind the Toyota. He starts up the brand new tractor and then begins to set up and test the Fisher variable-width mower before handing it over to its new owner for an evening of urgent grass cutting.

Claire is managing director of NP Seymour Ltd, an engineering and agricultural machinery dealer set up by her family in 1974. Based in nearby Cranbrook, the company supplies and makes equipment for orchards, vineyards and fruit growers across the UK. 

“We’ve had other pick-ups in the past but I was impressed with the comfort of the Hilux. We bought it from Beadles Toyota, Medway, in the spring of 2019.

“It’s the Invincible model and is fitted with off-road tyres and a Truckman top on the back. We use it all the time for customer deliveries all over the UK, visiting growers and going to shows. The 3.5-tonne towing capacity is really important to us as lots of our kit is very heavy,” explained Claire.

Surrounded by apple blossom, NP Seymour’s Toyota Hilux delivers a tractor to an orchard at Tubslake Farm, Hawkhurst, Kent.

“We’ve been really busy since we’ve owned it. Covid didn’t really slow us down at all. We just had a few difficulties with staff numbers. But the demand for our machinery hasn’t stopped.

“The Hilux has already done 50,000 miles, and absolutely nothing has gone wrong with it. We’ll definitely buy another Toyota when it’s time to replace this one,” she said, just before hurrying off, leaving the orchard in a cloud of dust to go and enjoy the rest of her Sunday evening with Steve.

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Toyota Motor Corporation works to develop and manufacture innovative, safe and high-quality products and services that create happiness by providing mobility for all. We believe that true achievement comes from supporting our customers, partners, employees, and the communities in which we operate. Since our founding over 80 years ago in 1937, we have applied our…

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Toyota Motor Corporation works to develop and manufacture innovative, safe and high-quality products and services that create happiness by providing mobility for all. We believe that true achievement comes from supporting our customers, partners, employees, and the communities in which we operate. Since our founding over 80 years ago in 1937, we have applied our Guiding Principles in pursuit of a safer, greener and more inclusive society. Today, as we transform into a mobility company developing connected, automated, shared and electrified technologies, we also remain true to our Guiding Principles and many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to help realize an ever-better world, where everyone is free to move.

SDGs Initiatives https://global.toyota/en/sustainability/sdgs/

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