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“You cannot imagine the joy my boys have with Matador. They don’t want to hear of eating, nor of sleeping –
and the extraordinary thing is that their delight has lasted unabated now for many months”

This is from a 1904 letter sent to Johann Korbuly, the inventor of Matador.

Matador_Johann_KorbulyIt was in November 1901 when the Austrian engineer Johann Korbuly patented his invention. It all started when he watched his three sons destroying each others creations, which they built from wooden blocks. What about connecting those blocks with wooden pins, he thought, and a new idea was born.

Korbuly first wanted to sell his patent, but eventually decided to develop and produce the toy himself. The name “Matador” goes back to a popular phrase at that time meaning “the best” or “the winner”.

Production of the sets began in 1903 and soon afterwards Korbuly, who must have been a good businessman as well, started to market overseas. The oldest known Matador advertisement appears in October 1904 in the “Youth’s Companion”, an American youth magazine. As early as 1905 the Matador building instructions were available in eight languages.

Korbuly’s small workshop in Vienna doubled up as a shop. In 1906 the first of many exclusive shops selling Matador kits was opened in central Vienna. Three years later a Matador shop was established in Berlin and by 1911 there were exclusive Matador outlets in 10 different cities.

The business evolved into the most successful Austrian toy Matador, educational toys, wooden toys, liftproducer in the 1920’s. There were four exclusive Matador shops in Vienna alone. Unlimited enthusiasm spread like wildfire and “construction set fever” was a familiar term. Matador sets were available for children from three years of age – and there was no upper limit. Men are generally known to play for their entire lives, with the excuse of having to help their children and grandchildren with the constructions. The passion to come up with new ideas and to develop innovative models was fuelled by competitions and the special Matador Magazine.

Matador, educational toys, wooden toys, physicsIn the 1920’s Matador also became more and more established in kindergartens and schools. In the early 20th century a movement had begun in school education away from the traditional military-style discipline, to an approach which encouraged discovery, creation and understanding in a child’s development. Matador was seen as the ideal educational tool in schools across Europe.

Matador sets ranged in size from no.00, 0, 1, all the way up to no.8. Extension sets allowed one to upgrade from one set to the next bigger one, without having to purchase a new one. Supplement kits were available, such as cogwheels, an electric motor, steel axels (which made it possible to build electromagnets and motors), and others.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, the Matador factory was burned down, but rebuilt soon after.

Matador, educational toys, wooden toys, engineThe “classic” Matador is built around a 2 cm-sized cube. In 1950 a larger format set, based on a 4 cm raster, was developed for younger children.

In the 1970’s there was a growing competition from plastic toys. Finally, in 1978 Matador was sold to Kurt Falk, who quit his job as a newspaper publisher. Falk wanted to change the established concept of Matador. He replaced some of the wooden parts with plastic parts and introduced a large number of new object-related components, such as little plastic figures and rubber wheels. He designed object sets, which worked against the idea of Matador as a universal construction set.

In short, production ceased in 1987, and it was not until 1996 that graduate engineer Michael Tobias acquired the brand and later the machines from Falk.

Thankfully, the current Matador owners went back to the origin concept - a universal construction set with the almost limitless possibilities of combining individual units to create objects and machines with movable parts.

Today the factory is located in St.Pölten, 66 km west of Vienna.Matador, educational toys, wooden toys, model crane Home-grown copper beach wood is used and 99.5% of Matador is now produced in Austria. This guarantees highest quality (tolerances of better than 1/500 mm are necessary) and compliance with the increasingly stringent international safety guidelines.

We don’t make toys – we make children happy
This is the motto of Michael and Claudia Tobias, the husband-wife team, current CEOs and owners of Matador.

Matador, educational toys, wooden toys, Ki

Coming back to the enthusiastic letter from a Matador fan, written in 1904  - 
s this still relevant in our time, more than 100 years later?

Today, we grow up with technology and we are constantly surrounded by high tech. Everything is computer-driven, even the toys. But have we changed? Do we still need to develop fine motor skills in our children, or is it enough for us to just handle keyboard and mouse? Is it still necessary for our children to build 3-dimensional structures and encourage their fantasies? Is it still useful for them to design and build models that they can test, correct and improve?

I leave it for the reader to answer these questions.


Matador production is in full swing with outlets all over the world, not just covering the entire European continent, but also in the US, Japan, China, Korea, South Africa and Israel.

New Zealand is well known for its high standard of education, with great emphasis on preschool child development. It is hoped that the introduction of Matador will contribute to a new generation of Kiwis growing up with a wonderful toy, which is fun and educational at the same time.