Sterling Ashby ’99

Toy Story

Winter 2009

Sterling Ashby ’99 knows a lot of things kids don’t. It’s not something he’s proud of; it is something he is looking to change.

Take, for example, Barnstorming Bessie Coleman. She was a pilot who performed daredevil stunts in the 1920s. Then there is Benjamin Banneker, a mathematician, astronomer, and surveyor who challenged Thomas Jefferson on the issue of slavery. And Matthew Alexander Henson was the first man to set foot on the North Pole. All were African-American, and all remain relatively unheard of among today’s youth.

That knowledge gap inspired Ashby, of counsel in the Washington, D.C., firm of Leftwich & Ludaway, to launch History in Action Toys several years ago. The company creates action figures that help children enjoy learning about real-life heroes of the past. “You’re talking about individuals and accomplishments,” Ashby says. “We’re empowering young people with great stories.”

In January of 2007, Ashby received his first 9,000 units, a shipment that included the company’s inaugural three action figures: Coleman, Banneker, and Henson. The toys are available at about 25 museums around the country, as well as online, and Ashby has plans to diversify his inventory in the future. He has already had multiple requests to mold various historical innovators, like the first Russian cosmonaut, into pliable action figures. “This is not a toy that’s going to move a million units, but you’re connecting with kids,” Ashby says. “When you see a kid connecting with something you helped make, it’s pretty special.”