American Made, Naturally
America does make things! We pride ourselves in being one example, right here in Middlebury, Vermont. Maple Landmark is local, with local materials, not something that happens 10,000 miles away. We craft a wide range of toys and gifts which follow American standards of product safety, employee safety, and environmental protection. No shortcuts. There is still a need for children to learn basic manipulation and construction so we believe in time-tested toys for hands-on learning and exploration.
Look for us in toy stores, gifts shops, catalogs and online merchants throughout the United States and beyond.
Maple Landmark History
Our area has a long history in the wood products industry. From the mills built by the early settlers to the furniture and novelty factories of the 1900's. It is only fitting that we combine history and local resources to continue the tradition.
Mike Rainville first came to woodworking as a hobby in the 1970's while he was in school. Working out of his parents' basement with scraps from his grandfather's carpentry projects, he duplicated household items, things like spool holders and cribbage boards. Before long friends and neighbors were asking Mike to make things and by 1979, his first wholesale relationship started. Local craft fairs also provided income and experience.
At age 15, getting lumber wasn't just a matter of borrowing a truck but a driver as well. At the time, the best selling items were cribbage and tic-tac-toe games.
After graduating Clarkson University in 1984, Mike went to work constructing a new woodshop of ample size for his now full-time business, now known as Maple Landmark Woodcraft. The choice "Maple Landmark" as the name for the business was a natural extension of the name Mike's family used for their maple sugaring business and dairy farm, Maple Landmark Homestead. His grandfather, Fletcher Brown made maple syrup for over 65 years and was always available to lend a hand.
In 1987, Mike acquired the Troll's Toy Workshop, formerly of Barnet, VT. This addition brought in many products based on the alphabet including letter cars, blocks, and signage letters. The company quickly went from Mike plus some part-time help to several full-time employees.
The product line grew and evolved over the coming years, adding items like trivets, ornaments, and our first name trains. In 1993, after many requests from retailers, the NameTrain concept was spun off into a new line that was compatible with the many wooden track systems available. In 1994, NameTrains were introduced in colors and sales soared.
Growth from these new products had Mike's building bursting at the seams by late 1994. Being located in the mountains was certainly peaceful but impractical for conducting business. It was decided to move the business into the valley, to Middlebury, our county seat and population center. A new building was built and occupied in 1996. A store was included so people could stop by, see what we do, and buy items to take with them.
Our creative abilities increased in late 1996 when we introduced laser engraving and pad printing to our production processes. The ability to add graphic designs to our products has been central to our product development ever since. All of these products and processes had a hard time fitting in our building and it was enlarged in 1999 to 15,000 square feet.
In 2001, Montgomery Schoolhouse, another long established Vermont producer wooden toys, joined the Maple Landmark family. Operations were consolidated in Middlebury.
Currently Maple Landmark employs about 30 people and sells product to over 2200 gift shops and toy stores throughout the country and abroad. We thrive on the feedback and ideas of our customers, so don't be afraid tell us what you want to see.
The Montgomery Schoolhouse Story
Montgomery Schoolhouse was founded in the fall of 1971, the name and trademark taken from the old and long-vacant Montgomery (Vermont) schoolhouse, the first plant and offices. The company was well on its way to becoming America's leading producer of craft-quality wooden toys when, on the night of July 20, 1973, the schoolhouse burned to the ground. Before long things were back up and running in a rented barn and then in a new woodworking plant.
The hallmark of Montgomery Schoolhouse was always the design, production and marketing to wooden toys of good old-fashioned quality. Eastern white pine and rock maple are the base materials used, both found in abundance in the region.
Initially, the toys had a clear finish applied to their simple and classic designs. In the 1980's, consumer tastes changed and a more colorful, decorated product line was developed. Today bright, primary colors can be found on nearly all products with most having fun details printed on them.
In 2001, Montgomery Schoolhouse became a part of Maple Landmark Woodcraft. We plan to carry on the tradition of these great toys with a special emphasis of continued production right here in our special state of Vermont.
With products sold in nearly 2000 specialty toy and gift stores locations nationwide, you can likely find a dealer near you!
Product Safety and Quality
The majority of our products are toys and we take toy safety seriously. As required, we follow the US Consumer Product Safety Commission rules, including the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act of 2008. Our most recent third-party tests (Feb. 2009) have re-confirmed all previous tests with respect to lead and heavy metals.
Our materials are below the detectible lead level of 10 ppm. The current federal standard is 100 ppm. While we never add lead to our products we will never claim our products to be "lead-free." Lead is a trace background element and cannot be 100% eliminated. Do not believe any claims of products being lead-free, it cannot be guaranteed.
Although it is currently unnecessary to test for phthalates in our products, we have done so. We have passed all of those tests as well.
Our efforts do not stop there. We strive to produce product that will last for generations. This means going beyond minimum guidelines. Everyone has experienced the toy that broke the day after Christmas. That probably isn't a lack following official guidelines but it is from a lack of concern for overall quality. For example, a softwood block is safe, a hard maple block is superior.
There is great concern about the components of finishes. While lead grabs all of the headlines, we find many people with concerns well beyond the federally regulated toxins.
Given our very broad product line, we use a great variety of finishes. We even have products with no finish (see our Schoolhouse Naturals line). It is our policy to make it very clear to you what finish we use on what product so you can make your own decisions. The specific finishes we use on each product are listed with product as you browse our site. The coatings we use are:
As with our other materials, our finishes are purchased as locally as possible. Nearly all are produced in Vermont, by people we know and have worked with for many years. If you would like more information about the finish on specific products, feel free to contact us.
Just as we have an obligation to produce safe product, it is always important to remember that appropriate use goes hand-in-hand with safe design and construction. Whenever necessary, we mark our products with the intended age of the child who may be using it. Giving a more advanced product to a younger child, no matter how "advanced" you perceive that child to be, can be a hazard. A marking of age 3+ is typically an indication of small parts hazards—it could be a problem for younger children who may be putting things in their mouth. Always monitor younger children when they are playing around older friends and siblings. What is okay for one child may not be okay for the next.
Doing Business "Locally"
Doing business locally means working with people you know and trust. Both parties, and the community, have a stake in a successful relationship. The economic power of doing business locally is not to be ignored. Money spent creates more jobs and gives people more spending power. In short, what goes around, comes around.
Given the likely alternate sources for wooden toys and gifts, we like to think we are America's local toy company. While we are not "just around the corner" for most of our customers, we are closer than most sources of wooden toys and work hard to be responsive to your needs. Hopefully we have earned your business by helping to create a successful relationship.
Retailers that preach buying local to their customers but don't do it themselves are disingenuous. At Maple Landmark, we take doing business locally seriously. From the services we hire, to our banking relationship, to our material sourcing, the nearer, the better. Where we can, components come from local companies. We succeed to the point that only about 1% of our budget goes to purchase foreign-sourced items.
Made in USA
We are proud to offer you high quality, American made, woodwork. Contrary to the attitude of many mass market manufacturers and distributors, origin is important. Preservation of domestic jobs is important, especially to those working those jobs. However, there are even deeper issues to consider.
When products are made in this country, you can be far more certain that employees are not being unfairly exploited and that they work in safe and protected facilities. You can also take comfort in the fact that companies are guided by strict environmental rules.
Safety and environmental protection are far less certain in cheap-labor countries. Importers and trade industry groups set up inspection programs to assure that all local laws are being followed. That is fine until one understands that in many regions, local laws are no more protective of labor and the environment than those of the United States at the turn of the last century.
It is ironic that our society, which works to outlaw exploitative activity within, is perfectly fine purchasing products made in conditions that were deemed improper here generations ago. All for the reason that products are cheaper.
Those inclined to import products will say that foreign production is more efficient, less wasteful. We beg to differ. For the most part, foreign factories don't operate with less labor, less material waste, or with less pollution. It can be argued that there is more true waste in these places because things are so cheap, there is less incentive to conserve and be careful.
The real "waste" importers are trying to avoid is the American standard of living, attacking the very people they expect to buy their products.
The wood Maple Landmark uses is from native species. We use rock maple primarily, as well as some pine and cherry. These are some of the best materials for wooden toys and gifts, we are fortunate to have them locally available.
There are virtually no old growth forests left in Vermont, the region was heavily logged in the 1800's. Damaging floods in the late 1800's and early 1900's not only knocked out the water powered mills that processed the timber but they also taught a lesson in not laying entire mountainsides bare to runoff and erosion. Vermonters have a reputation for being stubborn but we also use our experiences to learn better ways.
In the early 1900's, Vermont was 20% forested, now it is 80% forested. The forests are growing back, even more rapidly than the rate of harvest. As dairy farms consolidate and abandon marginal hillside property, the wilderness once again begins to take over.
The majority of wood that grows tends to be lower grade material. Since we make small items, we are able to use downgraded lumber by simply cutting around the defects. This strategy saves on the demand for the rarer, more premium grades. We also make use of small dimension material that is cast off from other plants.
Just as we are careful to fully utilize the wood we buy, our suppliers are careful about how it is harvested. For the entire history of our company, we have purchased the majority of our lumber from one local source, Lathrop's Maple Supply of Bristol, Vermont. Tom Lathrop is located just nine miles up the road and supplies not just maple, but pine, cherry, and other species as well. Tom has deep roots in the business, here is his story:
"For approximately 125 years my forefathers have been cutting timber and sawing logs in Bristol, Vermont. It all started with my second great-grandfather, Noah Lathrop, a Civil War veteran, who manufactured clapboards and shingles in the late 1870's.
"Knowledge of the timber industry has been passed through the generations. I started helping my father mark timber around the age of seven. Dad would instruct me as to which trees needed to be harvested and why. Some had reached maturity, other had damaged tops or trunks which needed to be salvaged. Harvest was always conservative and sustainable, the terms used when I was younger was selective cutting. When I was 12 years old, my grandfather, Clarence Lathrop, worked with me in the planer mill at my father's lumber mill. This mill, called "Claire Lathrop's Band Mill," was voted Vermont's #1 Mill one year.
"My goal as owner of Lathrop's Maple Supply is to provide high quality lumber and wood products, primarily from sustainable Addison County forests. I purchase quality lumber from reputable foresters with clients enrolled in Vermont's Land Use Program requiring sustainable harvest methods. These methods are the same ones that the certified sector uses."
Thomas C. Lathrop, owner/operator
What do we do with our wood waste? We have a couple of local farmers who take away our sawdust for cattle bedding. Our wood scraps are put out for locals to use for kindling, wood heat being very common in Vermont in the winter months.
To us, it all seems like the best combination of the right materials, the right people, the right products, all in the right place, that we should be able to produce and market wooden toys for you.
Recycling and Conservation
We have actively recycled materials from the very start. For us, it is good old-fashioned yankee frugality combined with modernday concern over the use of limited natural resources. In our business there are opportunities to either reuse materials or conserve right from the start.
Wood scraps and sawdust—Naturally we maximize our lumber use, yet invariably some scrap is generated. Instead of sending it to the landfill, we advertise free kindling wood. Local folks stop by on a regular basis and help themselves. We feel good that by-products of our production do not go to waste and can help to keep families warm at night.
Our wood shavings are collected by a large dust filtration system, which drops the waste into a hopper outside. Local farmers take chips and dust to their farms to use for cattle bedding. The farmers are happy to get the bedding needed for free and the cows are happy to have a clean bed. We have "Happy Cows" in Vermont too!
Merchandising—Over-packaging of products is a major waste issue, on top of being costly. For us, less packaging is not a loss of merchandising power, our nice wooden products just aren't best presented behind layers of indestructible plastic. They can better sell themselves by being fully seen and touched, revealing their own beauty and quality.
Packing & Shipping—You may notice that your orders come in various sorts of boxes and packing materials. We have always reused boxes and packing material for outgoing shipments. We accept packing "peanuts" from the local community. We also accept magazines and junk mail to add to our own paper waste to be shredded for additional packing material. Over 80% of the more than 10,000 cubic feet of picking fill used each year is recycled in this way. In addition, while we must purchase some corrugated cartons, we also reuse thousands of boxes every year.
Donut Boxes—The most interesting recycling- related impact at Maple Landmark are our ubiquitous "donut boxes." Back in the 1980's, when Mike's parents owned a local general store, frozen donuts could be purchased in bulk to be thawed for resale. The heavy corrugated boxes that the donuts arrived in made great trays for storing and transporting all sorts of things. They've been so handy that, over time, racks and stands have been sized based on the dimensions of the donut boxes. Sometimes we even find ourselves defining batches based on how many fit in a donut box (150 completed NameTrain letters). The supply of real donut boxes is gone and we now must buy them. With hundreds in use all around the shop, heaven help the person who tries to change the standard! We even sometimes date them to watch how long they are used before wearing out. Usually they cycle around for many years.
Recycling has become a way of life here at Maple Landmark and is vital to the sustainability of our natural resources. It has almost become contagious among our staff and gives them a sense of great pride to work for a company that is mindful of the environment in this world of business waste and consumption.