Family Matters

(Below is my most recent blog for those of you who missed it in the Global Toy News/Playthings ink on paper NY Toy Fair edition.)

What do the following names have in common?
Hassenfeld, Hassenfeld/Block, Henson, Pressman, Klamer, Goldfarb, Parker, Ellman, Verrecchia,Hassenfeld Family - Sylvia, Alan, Ellie, Susan  Weintraub, Fuhrer, Pasin, Calvin, Shure, Irwin, Nuccio, Levine, Becker, Osterhaus, Magers, Donner, Voigt, Tueber, Ryan, Daniels, Guyer, Wunderlich, Woldenberg, Herbert, Ganger, Meyers, Lennon, Killgallon, Norman, Kohner, Gray, Stark, Stebben, Burtch, Cohn, Meyer, Pillai/Chandra, Berger, Conrad, Gregory, Soehn, Clementoni, Glanz, Rudell, Disney, Falco, Steiner, Kislevitz, Friedman/Stern, Azoulai, Breuil, Bernstein, Ditomassi, Campagna/Lanham, Hendel/Petty, Lewis, Richter, Hess, Eisenberg, Mor/Lushi, Kremer, Gardner/Martin, Lifschutz, Jones, Monchik, Nyberg/Klint, Collins, Pavalek, Halitzer, Greenfield, DiPasquale, Bauer, Kravitz, Prince, Gaynor and Orbanes.

They are all families that have been a part of our toy and game industry for at least two generations – some as long as four!
I am sure there are many more.
Apart from the Mafia, there is no industry I can think of where family connections are more prevalent. Perhaps it is because we take our work home with us and involve our children. Ours are products that our children enjoy and we use their feedback. In the process, we pass our love of the business along to them. At the Toy and Game Inventor Awards Dinner last November, Ellen Hassenfeld Block told a wonderful story about how her brother Stephen and she found Mr. Potato Head parts in their father’s briefcase, early in that toy's development, and then stuck them into a summer squash. For years they thought that THEY had invented Mr. Potato Head.
I thought it would be interesting to find out what some of the scions of our toy industry families had to tell us about growing up in the industry and what they might have done if they hadn't followed their families into the business. They generously shared their thoughts below.
Alan Hassenfeld: The word child labor must have been invented by the earlier generations in the toy industry.  I remember early on working on the production line at 10 or 11. I remember any number of times being in the warehouse, but my fondest memories are of being a toy tester. What would I have done if I hadn’t gone into the toy industry? It’s easy – I would have continued my tennis career and gone on to Wimbledon, or I would have continued on and became the next great American author.

Jim Pressman: Growing up with my Mother and Father both running the toy company, the company was all pervasive. Everything and all conversations seemed to revolve around it. However, I never considered it as something I  would do. How wrong I was.  I did feel special when we took our elementary school class trips to visit the factory in Brooklyn. And,of course, birthday presents for  my fellow classmates was never a problem!

Martin Goldfarb: It was great growing up in the toy business -getting to play with a lot of terrific toys and games before they made it to market and some that never made it to market. With my family's genes, I would have ended up in another job that rewarded creative thinking if not toys and games.Richie Weintraub and Mary Hartline at Toy Fair 1951

Richie Weintraub: My earliest memories include going to the factory with my grandfather, Abe Katz, on  weekends to see the injection molding machines at Ideal Toy Company. Those machines looked very big to a 3 year old. My dad, Lionel Weintraub, continued this tradition with my brother and me. We were loading trucks and inspecting toys by the age of 14. I worked with people who cared about what I learned. They cared about me because my dad and grandfather cared about them. They taught me that taking an interest in your people was key to getting great results.  We had many hit toys during my career, but more importantly, we had many good friends.

David Fuhrer: Although independent, sharing our industry with my brother and dad makes business more enjoyable. We've been able to spend quality time throughout the world, share friendships and common interests. While I have had to work hard and pave my own way, it was made easier by my dad's great reputation. If not the toy industry, I would have likely been working in TV/film.

TAGIE Awards 2010 David, Len and Bob Fuhrer Bob Fuhrer: My dad worked for Matchbox, Topper Toys, Damon Corp (Estes Rockets), Arrow Handicrafts and Hi-Flier Kites.  My brother David and I made the package cover for the Matchbox Motorway. During his days at Topper, I was infatuated with the “Johnny” brand – particularly the Johnny Seven gun and Secret Sam spy briefcase. I created products that “couldn’t miss” and my idea “The Missile Toe” was eventually made by Estes.  Sales were not impressive.

Matt Nuccio: Back when my father worked at HG Toys, I'd come in on some Saturdays. They were theMatt Nuccio photo as a boy  king of licensed dress up – CHIPS, Dukes of Hazard, He Man, etc. I played with everything, sketched toy ideas and built prototypes and they used me as a packaging model on occassion. Perhaps I could have been a model.

Leah Osterhaus: My father and I entered the toy industry at the same time. He as a publisher of board games, and me as a 16 year old Toys R Us cashier.  That same year I worked Toy Fair and Spiel. It was like visiting Disneyland and getting your business degree rolled into one.

Carle Wunderlich: I am the third generation of four. My father and grandfather ran a chain of hardware and discount stores. I started as a buyer in 1980, then a rep and in 1998 started a distribution company, Best of Best Toys. My youngest son, Barry, has just joined us as a salesman after working in the warehouse making it the fourth generation. 2010 was my 30th Toy Fair and his first!

Martin Killgallon: I am the third generation at Ohio Art. My grandfather started in 1955, my Uncle Bill in 1969 and father (Larry) in 1978. As a child, one of the coolest benefits was testing protoypes. A lot of characters stopped by to pitch their ideas. Some were spectacular and others were not; but no matter how good or bad, I was always impressed by their creativity and passion. The key to maintaining balance between family and business is to treat each other with respect and leave the business at the office. Ohio Art is fortunate to be entering its 103rd year and one of the keys to our longevity is that we are a family oriented company.
My 14 year old son tells me he would like to be part of my business one day – after he becomes a successful sportscaster. I am not sure what the future holds, but I would certainly be delighted to welcome him. 

(Pictures: Photo 1 - Sylvia Hassenfeld, Alan Hassenfeld, Ellen Hassenfeld Block and Susie Block Casden. Photo 2 – Richie Weintraub with Mary Hartline. Photo 3 – David, Len and Bob Fuhrer. Photo 4 – Matt Nuccio as a child on the box of a Dukes of Hazzard toy.)

9 thoughts

  1. Michelle, one day our boys may work together!
    Jill, Fred, Jeroen, Hal and Larry, I have added your family names. Thank you very much for sharing your stories. This is one of the many things that makes this industry so wonderful.

  2. Great article Mary. If all of the industry people came out of the woodwork there would be hundreds of stories. I brought my son into our invention business (California R&D Center) during the early ’70s and groomed him to take over the business that I had built since the mid ’60s. We were one of the original west coast inventor teams during those days as the only others were Marvin Glass and Eddie Goldfarb who had just left Marvin and started his own company with Irwin Benko. We placed products with almost every toy company and my son Steve loved it so much he had to go to college at the Art Center in Pasadena with designing toys in mind. I have met so many of these inventors over the years including most of the ones you mentioned. I actually presented products to Merrell Hasenfeld (Alan & Steve’s pop)and to Lionel Weintraub and to Elliott & Ruth Handler. Then to see the kids come along was outstanding.

  3. Hmm My mother at 68 still designs toys as a full time job, my sister and brother also work in the toy industry and I together with my wife have our own company. It’s a nice addiction.

  4. In the early forties my mother got a job as a book keeper in a bead factoory making belts from beads. One day the owner approached my mother asking her since she new the customers from her position to go out & try to sell a new product which was a wooden dog on a platform made out of beads & when pressed beneath moved in different directions. The item was called “Happy Dog” & it became the hottest toy of the year. After the company came out with more items they told my mopther to go back to her job as a book keeper as they hired a professional toy salesman. The year was 1948 The company was Kohner Bros. My mom left & set up a showroom at the Hotel Breslin which at the time had many showrooms on the first 3 floors.
    One of the items introduced by my mom was Paint by Number sets. I was fifteen at the time & helped by carrying samples as she called on the many accounts in NYC, NJ & Phila
    I am still selling toys & love what i’m doing

  5. Mary, I had no idea how many second (third and fourth) generation families were in the toy and game industry! It is an honor to be part of this group.Thank you for writing this article and bringing us all together. Jill

  6. Wonderful stories Mary!
    Did you remember to list your own family?! I remember you talking about your mother making toys for you and I know I’ve seen your son helping you at Chitag.
    We can’t help but involve the kids when we work in the biz. My boys have been involved from day one – serving as the inspiration, playtesting, brainstorming, critiquing designs, working in the warehouse, learning about CASHFLOW 😉 and developing a level of patience and understanding that is uncommon for their age – because a startup family toy/game business does not operate 9-5 but rather 24/7.
    I’m pretty sure I’m breeding at least one toymaker in the bunch and the others will either carve out their own place in the biz when they grow up, or they will run the other way and try out for Wimbledon. 🙂
    Thank you so much for this tribute to the American Toy Family. Well done!

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