With the holiday season comes toy season for children. At one point in history, West Hempstead was an important manufacturing center for the kind of toys called models. Aurora Plastics Corporation, which ran from the 1950s-1977 on 44 Cherry Valley Road, and Berkeley Models, founded in 1933 in Brooklyn, and then moved to West Hempstead on Railroad Avenue (now Hempstead Gardens Drive) from 1945-1962, both made their headquarters and flourished in West Hempstead near the original “Cradle of Aviation.”
Aurora was the brainchild of engineer Joseph Giammarino and businessman Abe Shikes. They manufactured injection-molded plastic toys such as aircrafts, missiles, tanks, science-fiction monsters and comic book heroes. Their greatest success, however, proved to be slot cars, which catapulted them to the top of the industry.
Berkeley was founded by William Effinger Jr. who was a World War II veteran and a graduate of both Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and MIT. He started Berkeley in a three-car garage in Brooklyn, but later moved it to West Hempstead where sales exploded. By then, Berkeley became one of the most prolific manufacturers of gas-powered model airplane kits. Effinger used the pseudonym of “Bill Berkeley” for his advertising in Model and Hobby Magazine. The name, Berkeley, was the street name of his family’s home in Brooklyn.
Courtesy West Hempstead Historical Society; compiled by Nakeem Grant