Who is your favorite toy inventor?

Originally published at: Who is your favorite toy inventor? | Boing Boing


I don’t know if it was the Steiner Brothers (Kenner Toys), or someone who worked for them, but my first thought is hats off to the person who thought up SSP Racers.


I’m gonna have to go with my uncle, Henry Orenstein. He was the founder of Topper and Deluxe Toys: Susie Homemaker, Sixfinger, Johnny Lightning cars, and many, many others. Perhaps greater than his toys, though, were his TV commercials. You MUST see this commerical, for the Suzy Cute doll. Henry somehow convinced LOUIS ARMSTRONG to do the commerical. Let me repeat: LOUIS ARMSTRONG. Suzy Cute Doll Commercial (1964-1965) Featuring Louis Armstrong - YouTube. (Henry has a photo of himself, viewed from behind, berating Louis, with his arms up in the air, and Louis facing Henry, not having it.)

Also, please don’t miss the Sixfinger commerical: SIXFINGER TOY BY TOPPER - YouTube

Henry was also a holocaust survivor, philanthropist, artist, author, world class poker player, and the man single-handedly responsible for turning poker into a spectator sport. He led an epic life. Google will turn up information on all of this.


Ha, I posted that Sixfinger commercial here on the bbs just a couple weeks ago!

Sixfinger! Sixfinger! Man alive!

How did I ever get along with five?!


I had a Vacu-Form when i was a kid, bought from a second hand shop. Dangerous, and fun!


Reading this article reminded me of a character I haven’t thought of in a long time: Joseph Cossman. While he had a hand in inventing the Ant Farm, Cossman was mostly a promoter and marketer of novelty items. He’d buy a promising product from an unsuccessful inventor and promote it into success. The Spud Gun was his most famous acquisition.

Decades ago, in the heyday of the late-night infomercial, Cossman had a show promoting a course in making money from toys and miscellaneous stuff like he had. It was the only infomercial I willingly watched more than once. Cossman was an old-fashioned ballyhoo man, an amusing talker with a lot of great stories. Unlike later infomercials, Cossman’s program didn’t use a lot of inserts, flashing overlays, and b&w footage of people failing simple tasks. Basically he sat with an interviewer and talked about his career and his philosophy.

The commercial worked on me. I actually sent away for the course. It came in a small hinged case stuffed with audio cassettes and informational booklets. I confess I’d entertained the fantasy that I might make big bucks off the Cossman method. I didn’t. However I really believe someone could have done so. The trick was you had to have Joseph Cossman’s personality. You had to be pushy, entertaining, silver-tongued, and willing to use every trick in the book to gain publicity. I don’t mean illegal tricks–Cossman never recommend anything underhanded. I’m talking sideshow promotion, like hiring busty models to hand out booth invites at a trade show or schmoozing local reporters into covering a promotional event as if it were news.

All this seems unbearably quaint in the 21st century. Today everyone strives to develop a personal brand, promoting themselves as the product. Maybe Cossman would have done the same if he were operating today. I’m not sure he’d have had the same success. At least while he was here he gave us the Spud Gun and the Ant Farm.


Yes!! I loved those. The Stomper II toys had little PTO winches which were so cool and clever.


Oh man! I loved those! I can’t remember if the Evil Kenevil rocket car that I had was legit SSP or just used a similar mechanism, but I loved them all


Out of all the toys I played with, I have to go with Ole Kirk Kristiansen. A new toy every day!


SSP was invented by Marvin Glass and Associates out of Chicago.

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I had the similarly monthly-mailed kits “Things of Science.” Not as deluxe, but very clever in their own way: imaginatively incorporated free samples from manufacturers and other sources. Each month a different topic: “The Sense of Taste” “Optics” “acids and bases” etc. One of the most memorable was a pack of samples of reinforced mirrored Mylar material, the same stuff Echo I and II were made of.


I wish I could still get a Vac-U-Form!

I think Frank Hornby has to receive my vote of thanks.

More a designer than an inventor, but Shoji Kawamori. He was one of the pioneers of the “perfect transform” transforming robot having worked on a large chunk of the Diaclone Car Robots line which was imported as much of the original Transformers toyline. He also designed the animation model and toy of the VF-1 Valkyrie from Macross/Robotech (which was imported as Jetfire in Transformers), which was revolutionary at the time because he made physical transforming prototypes in order to ensure that the toy and the animation design shared proportions and transformed the same way.


Wow! Does your family have any relation to Benno Orenstein, founder of Orenstein & Koppel (most famous for their steam locomotives)?

Mine would have to go to Victor Shreckengost, largely because I can’t name any other toy designers. He did the Murray peddle cars and Murray Mercury bicycle. I can’t say the toys are even the things he did that I’m most familiar with. I mostly knew his pottery and other industrial design.

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Not that I know of. I see that Orenstein & Koppel was founded in Berlin, while my family is from eastern Poland. Also, Orenstein is not that uncommon a name, (although for my family, the original Polish spelling was more like Orensztejn).


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