Nils Testor, an early 20th century immigrant from Sweden, is a classic
American success story. Having begun his management career at Woolworth
as a stock boy (although he had a college degree from Stockholm),
his business acumen and love of the arts - including airplane modeling
- quickly propelled him into the position of entrepreneur as owner
and progenitor of the Testor Chemical Company. Beginning with selling
household glue, he soon added nitrate and butyrate dope, balsa,
airplane kits, paint-by-number sets, and model engines. He leveraged
the Great Depression and World War II eras to great advantage,
although Testor's business and personal life suffered its share
of downturns and tragedies. "Learn, learn and keep on learning.
Learn with your head but also with your hands."
Here is the 2-page
ad that ran in that same issue of American Modeler.
Testor: From Here to Hogboda - The Name is Well Known
When Nils F. Testor, who owns a number of enterprises prominently
identified with the craft, model and hobby industry, had completed
his education at the Frans Schartua School of Business in Stockholm,
Sweden, he wanted to spend a year aboard. He had Berlin, Paris,
or London in mind, so he could gain practical experience in business
and thoroughly learn a foreign language.
Nils F. Testor at his desk in the Rockford,
Illinois, office. His home is now at San Juan; Puerto Rico.
The year was 1924. Nils was 21.
His mother suggested he should go to Aurora, Illinois, in America,
where he· had an aunt, who might keep a watchful eye on him. He
arrived in Aurora that August.
He had neither a craft nor trade and the young Swedish immigrant
found it difficult to get a job. His money dwindled for two months.
Late in October, he answered a blind advertisement in The Chicago
Tribune. The F. W. Woolworth Company was looking for applicants
to qualify as "learners." This looked good to the Swedish lad, who
was out to gain business experience, even though it meant a 3-year
learning period. It was a challenge as he moved from stock handling
to window trimming, counter displays, office detail, purchasing,
and into a correspondence course and seminars for the theory of
sales and management.
Nils was put in overalls as stock boy in Woolworth's State Street
store in Chicago. He spent his first Christmas eve and Christmas
day working, quite in contrast with the celebrating and gaiety which
he knew was going on in his home back in Stockholm. "You'll be back
before Christmas!" members of his family and friends had predicted
when he left his comfortable Stockholm home.
Making good, young Testor was sent as manager on January 1928,
to a Woolworth store in Rockford, Illinois. In three years, he had
"graduated." He had achieved a good position and security, also
a good salary. And he had gained what he wanted most - invaluable
In the meantime, he had married Elizabeth Forss, of Aurora; a
son was born their first year in Rockford.
Testor had changed his mind about staying abroad only a year
because he felt the Woolworth 3-year training was important to his
future. As store manager he began to realize that from then on he
would have to be content with only two weeks of vacation a year
and that he could not expect to visit his family and friends in
Sweden. (This was not yet the jet age and passenger ships took 11
days to travel from New York to Gothenburg.
Testor had become acquainted with Axel Karlson, a Swedish manufacturer
of an adhesive famous in Sweden, known as Karlson's Klister. Karlson
had formed a small company in Rockford with a number of investors;
he persuaded Testor to take the job of office manager in the new
firm. Prospects seemed good and Nils visioned the possibility of
taking time off for an occasional trip to Stockholm in the new position,
even though the beginning salary was not half what the Woolworth
One of the major manufacturers in the paint-by-number
business, Testors has contributed new marketing methods and
packaging systems. Concern now makes model engines, gliders,
plane kits, finishes and adhesives of all types.
Karlson's Klister was used as a household cement, to stop runs
in women's stockings and to cement soles of shoes in repair shops.
The depression hit the company and financial reverses doomed it.
The firm was liquidated in 1934. Testor, seeing possibilities in
the product he had nurtured through the lean years, borrowed funds
from a friend and purchased the assets of the firm. He continued
the business as sole stockholder and proprietor, which has been
his method of doing business ever since.
The name was changed to the Testor Chemical Company. The product
was sold as Testor's Household Cement. Through the years, it has
continued a popular item. Soon Nils expanded his line to include
adhesives for the craft, model and hobby industry. This was Testor's
entrance into a field where he has attained a dominant position.
By 1940 the Testor Company had grown so new quarters were required.
A complete factory building was occupied and here a laboratory was
established and research begun in finishing materials for the craft,
model and hobby industry. Thus was born the complete line of Testor's
nitrate and butyrate dope. World War II broke out and chemicals
were unobtainable except for defense purposes. Testor entered this
field to make and ship over 1,000,000 gallons of finishing materials
to the military forces.
Simultaneously, Testor found he could obtain Mexican pine, and
with it he began making scale model airplanes, which were sold in
attractive kits. Second-hand woodworking machinery was purchased
and the Testor firm was in the business of making accurate scale
models of such famous airplanes as the B-17, B-29, C-54 and later
the DC-4 and Constellation transport planes. These were sold in
large volume until the war's end.
Another factory had been acquired, for woodworking, but on Feb.
1, 1944, Testor had the awful experience of seeing this factory
destroyed by fire. Loss was estimated at $220,000.
As he inspected the smoldering ruins, Testor told The Rockford
Morning Star: "Of course, we are discouraged, but I've suffered
setbacks as well as encouragement in the 15 years I've been in business.
We are fortunate in having men and women who are willing to dig
in and create something better out of the ashes. It does no good
to feel badly about what happened. We'll just start to build again
and benefit from our past experience."
The plant was rebuilt and production got under way again. Testor
credits the "wonderful team work" of his organization and the role
played by top management and others for whatever success has been
achieved. A number of key people have been with the Testor firm
for 15 to 25 years.
Testor expanded his line of products by adding model airplane fuel,
new adhesives, plastic cements and enamels in 48 colors. To handle
this volume, a second modern factory was built and occupied January
1, 1951. The scale model wood kits were discontinued and Tester
began making balsa toy airplanes. He used a new approach in merchandising
and packaging. Mass produced, the Go-High glider at 10 cents was
an instant sales success. So were a 25-cent glider, 29-cent catapult
glider and 49-cent rubber-powered airplane with plastic propellers
and landing gear. They sold by the million and are still made in
The Balsa Processing Company was acquired by Testor in 1954.
This made Testor a producer of balsa sheets, strips and dimension
stock for the hobby industry and, one of the largest users of balsa
in the country.
In 1955, Testor negotiated for purchase of the stock of the Duro-Matic
Products Company of Culver City, California, a company which since
1941 had been making the famed McCoy model engine. The acquisition
was to broaden the line of Testor products. Thus he added a metal
working plant to his woodworking and chemical factories. The Duro-Matic
Company also manufactures precision parts as a sub-contractor to
the full scale airplane industry of California. Production of the
McCoy engines has expanded greatly - the newest Testor model plane
kits, sold under the name of "Freshman," are powered by the McCoy
A new smaller McCoy engine has been developed and was presented
at the Hobby Industry Association trade show in Chicago this February.
It is the McCoy "5" selling at $3.95. Thus, the range of McCoy engines
for the model field now is from its big "60" to the small "5."
After several years of research, the Testor Company in 1956 began
manufacturing paint-by-number kits. Of outstanding quality, both
for its artists' colors in oil, developed and made by Testor, and
its packaging, they met with instant success. The packaging won
a top trade award in 1958.
New facilities again were needed. The two Rockford plants had
become too small. Puerto Rico attracted Nils F. Testor's imagination
and interest. A new plant was acquired in 1956 between Catano and
Bayamon, close to San Juan harbor. The Testor Balsa Company, Tnc.,
was formed. A year later the Testor Adhesive Company, Inc., was
formed and a second plant erected nearby. The woodworking operations
have moved from Rockford to the balsa plant in Puerto Rico and the
making and packaging of all Testor tubed adhesives have been moved
to the second plant.
This leaves the manufacturing and packaging of the bottled Testor
finishing materials and the assembly and shipping of the paint-by-number
kits in the two Testor Rockford plants. Testor produces 30,000,000
tubes of cement and adhesives a year; the bottle products sell in
even higher volume. A fifth bottling line has been added at the
Rockford plant and the space formerly used for producing the balsa
products is devoted to packaging and shipping the paint-by-number
Testor has acquired an ocean-front home at San Juan and has moved
there with his family. He also has acquired an office in San Juan
but is not making any changes in his Rockford office, where he spends
some time each year.
A Swedish corporation was organized several years ago by Testor;
it has the name of Testor Produkter AB. Headquarters are in Stockholm.
A warehouse is located nearby. Testor has found time to make frequent
trips to Sweden and other countries.
Mr. Testor's first wife died in 1944 after an extended illness.
He married Elaine Meshkoff in 1945. They have three children: Kristina,
12; Mamie, 11; and Fredrik, 4.
Testor's one absorbing hobby is music. He has a tremendous record
library of world-famous operas. Always from childhood, he has been
interested in music and the fine arts. As a boy he would attend
the Royal Opera performances just as American boys attend the movies
- perhaps oftener.
Testor has been a patron of Rockford and Chicago choruses and
music groups. He toured Sweden in 1953 with the Chicago Swedish
Glee club. Nils is a director of the Swedish Historical Society
of Rockford and its museum; he helped entertain Prince Bertil of
Sweden both in 1938 and 1948 on Rockford visits. He has been a director
and secretary of the Swedish-American Hospital in Rockford since
He felt there was need for a first-rate mixed chorus in Rockford
and two years ago organized the Testor Chorus, which in its concert
last June had 70 voices and was acclaimed as outstanding. It is
directed by Dr. Harry T. Carlson of Chicago.
In recognition of his cultural and business contributions, Mr.
Testor received the Swedish decoration of Knight of the Royal Order
of Vasa from the late King Gustaf V of Sweden in 1950. He also received
the Swedish Pioneer Centennial medal from Prince Bertil in 1948
and the Royal decoration of the KFUM (YMCA) Chorus of Stockholm
Testor loves the water and sea and it is one reason he has moved
to Puerto Rico with a house on the ocean front of San Juan. He enjoys
flowers and trees and has many around his factories. At his Rockford
home, he spent as much as $3,000 on surgery to save a single oak
Such is the story of a Stockholm youth who when he first looked
at the New York skyscrapers in 1924 scarcely dreamed that one day
products bearing his name would be sold by the millions in the canyons
that are New York streets, or that his name would identify products
sold everywhere in the world .
Testor has faith in the craft, model and hobby industry. He has
faith in youth. He feels that the model and hobby interests can
do much to whet the appetite of teenagers for the jet and atomic
age into which they have been catapulted. The little model engines
are the key to learning the secrets of combustion and .propulsion.
"Give youth every opportunity to work with actual models," Tester
urges. To young people, his advice is: "Get a good education. Learn,
learn and keep on learning. Learn with your head but also with your
Posted February 13, 2016