Islyn Thomas, a gregarious Welshman who became a well-known authority on the U.S. plastic toy industry, a leader of the Society of Plastics Engineers, and a member of the Plastics Hall of Fame, died May 21 at his home in Madison, N.J.
Thomas died six days before his 90th birthday.
The son of a Welsh coal miner emigrated to Scranton, Pa., at age 11 with his parents, and was proud of his roots. He was a founding member of the National Welsh-American Foundation, served as chairman of its advisory council and wrote the book Our Welsh Heritage.
Harold Holz, who knew Thomas from work at SPE, the Plastics Hall of Fame and the National Plastics Center & Museum, said Thomas was a world traveler - something he was loath to give up even as his health failed.
When Holz visited Thomas recently, he said, Thomas had lost a considerable amount of weight after stomach surgery last year.
``But he was still planning to take his annual trip to Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales,'' Holz said.
The scheduled trip departure date: May 21.
``Just the week before he died, at the insistence of family members, he postponed that trip to August,'' Holz said.
Blessed with a quick wit and interesting stories, Thomas was in demand on the lecture circuit. He focused on two subjects.
``Plastics and the Welsh heritage were the most important aspects of his life,'' Holz said.
In 1975, at the request of Queen Elizabeth II, he was inducted into the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his lifetime of contributions to the plastics industry.
Four years later, he joined the Plastics Hall of Fame.
His plastics career began in 1930. Holding a degree from the Johnson School of Technology, Thomas joined Consolidated Molded Products Corp. in Scranton as a tool and die maker. By 1938 he had moved up to chief engineer.
In 1942, he was named general manager of Ideal Toy Co. Thomas was responsible for converting Ideal's operations from toys to work supporting World War II.
The assignment included plastic parts for the Manhattan Project. He also served as a member of the War Production Board.
Two years later, Thomas founded Thomas Engineering Co., Plastics Parts Development Corp. and then Thomas Manufacturers Corp. - which became one of the largest U.S. producers of plastic toys and housewares.
Thomas helped develop the first plastic tea-party sets and plastic telephones, among other early plastic toys.
Thomas Manufacturing in Newark, N.J., turned out toys by the millions, such as brightly colored cars and boats, dolls and circus clowns. A wind-up submarine could dive 3 feet under water.
Friends said a visit to the home of Islyn and Ruth Thomas was like a trip to a toy store.
``In his den, he had an exhibit of all his toys,'' said Guy Martinelli. ``It wasn't a fancy thing, but if you had the time and he had the time, he would go through every last one of them.''
As World War II ended, Thomas helped establish several companies in England and Wales. He wrote an important early plastics industry book, Injection Molding of Plastics, in 1947.
He was president of SPE in 1951, making him the oldest living SPE president. Martinelli and Holz also are past presidents of SPE.
Martinelli, SPE's president in 1964, said Thomas devoted a huge amount of time to industry associations.
``There isn't a plastics organization, or perhaps even a chemical organization, that he wasn't a part of,'' he said.
In 1952 Thomas established Newark Die Hobbing and Casting Co., and later founded Newark Plastic Machinery Corp.
In 1960, he sold his toy company and resigned as president of Newark Die to become a consultant to the plastics industry, through Thomas International in Madison.