Toys are a 22.09 billion dollar industry a year in the United States. The highest number of toy sales traditionally happens in December, as families across the United States prepare to celebrate the holidays. Ohio has long been at the forefront of the toy industry, dating back to the mid-19th century.
The Delphos Bending Company was founded in 1900 by Louis Justus in Delphos, Ohio. Originally named The Delphos Hoop Company, they produced wooden barrel hoops until 1912. The company rebranded and started producing metal and wood parts. In 1934 the company started making children’s furniture. By 1951 it was the largest children’s furniture maker in the world. Later they expanded into the production of large children’s toys, including a successful line of rocking horses. Due to rising production costs, the company shut down production in 1980.
Another early example of the toy industry in Ohio is “Dayton Toys”. Comprised as a toy movement made up of 38 Dayton based toy companies in the late 19th century, these toys were early friction toys or “Hill Climbers”, tin wheeled toys. This type of toy was in such demand in the early 20th century, author William Gallagher explains, “There were about 40 toy makers across the Miami Valley and more than 200 toy patents. Orville Wright even had a toy patent, and his older brother Lorin owned a toy company.” However, the Depression hit the industry hard and by World War II most of these toy companies had closed.
Another Dayton based toy maker, Wilkie Picture & Puzzle Co., managed to survive the manufacturing limitations of World War II. The company produced thousands of puzzles during the 1930s and 1940s, including several Wright Brothers themed puzzles. The company shut down by the early 1950s due to rising production costs.
Founded in 1908, the Ohio Art Company is one of the oldest and best known Ohio toy companies. It was started in Archbold, Ohio, by Henry Winzeler, who decided that making oval shaped metal frames would be more interesting than being a dentist. Lithographic prints from Germany were inserted into these frames and sold by companies like Sears, Roebuck & Co. In 1912, Winzeler relocated Ohio Art to its current location in Bryan, Ohio. A few years later, in part due to the halt on German imports during World War I, Ohio Art entered the toy industry. They created banks, small coaster wagons and carts, spinning tops, and tea sets. In 1959, Ohio Art bought the rights to the “Telecran” from Frenchman Andre Cassagnes. He and the company’s chief engineer, Jerry Burger, spent time perfecting the design before it was released in 1960 under the name “Etch-A-Sketch.” This drawing toy quickly became Ohio Art’s most iconic and popular toy, with Sears, Roebuck & Co. selling ten million of them in the 1960s alone. Etch-A-Sketch was one of the many successes the company had during the 1960s. They also began making metal signs and trays for Coca-Cola. Ohio Art continues to be a successful toy company today, though the toys are no longer manufactured in Ohio.
The Evenflo Company was started in 1920 in Ravenna, Ohio. They originally produced rubber materials related to baby feeding, but expanded production to infant products over the years including this bath toy set. Best known today for breast pumps, bottles, car seats, and strollers, the company moved to Miamisburg, Ohio in the 1990s. They maintain a factory in Piqua, Ohio.
Little Tikes was created by Thomas G. Murdough Jr. in 1969 in Aurora, Ohio to create low-tech molded plastic toys aimed primarily at infants and young children, for indoor and outdoor use. The company is best known for its turtle shaped sandbox and the “Cozy Coupe” car, a red and yellow plastic car intended for young children, both introduced in 1979. The company moved to Hudson, Ohio in 1984 to expand their manufacturing plant as demand continued to rise. In 1991, “The Cozy Coupe Car was named the Best-selling car in America.”
Thomas G. Murdough Jr. started another toy company based in Ohio after leaving Little Tikes. The Step 2 Company, based in Streetsboro, Ohio, is the largest American manufacturer of preschool and toddler toys and the world’s largest rotational molder of plastics. Step2 began operations in 1991 with five employees. Plastic play houses are their best known product.
While not exclusively a toy company, the American Greetings Company has created countless characters emblazoned on toys across the country. American Greetings was started in Cleveland, Ohio in 1906 by Polish immigrant Jacob Sapirstein. The company originally sold paper greeting cards before expanding into other product lines such as licensed characters. American Greetings’ toy design and licensing division, known as Those Characters From Cleveland, includes such as Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, The Get Along Gang, Popples, and Holly Hobbie.
One of the newest holiday traditions, Christopher Pop-In-Kins, comes from Alliance, Ohio. Winner of the Greatest Products of 2008 Award by iParenting Media Awards, the toy was invented by Flora Johnson, a grandmother from Atwater, Ohio in 1984. According to the company, “Based on a tradition she(Flora) began with her own family during the early 1960’s, Christopher “pops in” to visit boys and girls from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. He then returns to the North Pole with a report on his time in the Children’s World.” Christopher has been delighting children and adults across the country since then, including staff at the Ohio History Connection!
Did you own any of these toys growing up? What other toys were or continue to be produced in Ohio?
Emily Lang, History Curator
 Knodel, Lisa. “Toys Were Once Serious Business Locally.” Dayton Daily News. April 9, 2014. Accessed December 4, 2014. http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/events/toys-were-once-serious-business-locally/nfSBW/.