Tinker Toys – Where It All Began

Few toys have had the level of success and longevity that Tinkertoys have enjoyed throughout the years. In fact, when — according to Hasbro.com — The Toy Tinkers of Evanston, Illinois, wrote in a 1935 catalogue, “1914 – Good then, 1935 – Good now, 2000 – Good always,” they were perhaps being prophetic — the longtime favorite among children of all ages was awarded with Toy of the Year honors by the Toy Manufacturers of America as recently as 2001.

So how did Tinkertoys come to be? Their story begins on a train ride from Evanston to Chicago in the early 1900s. As a pair of commuters, Charles Pajeau and Robert Pettit, were traveling to work, they began talking and found that they shared a dislike for their current employment situations. Pajeau was a stonemason; Pettit worked on the Board of Trade — an pair unlikely to find success as toy developers. But find it they did, and quite by chance.

In the early 1910s, Pajeau saw some children playing with pencils and old spools of threads. He looked on in wonder as the youngsters built creation after creation with the seemingly ordinary objects, and he knew right away that he had stumbled across something special. If only others could have shared his vision.

“He designed his first set in his garage, and with high hopes, displayed the toy at the 1914 American Toy Fair. But nobody was interested,” writes Ideafinder.com . “He tried his marketing skills again at Christmas time. He hired several midgets, dressed them in elf costumes, and had them play with ‘Tinker Toys’ in a display window at a Chicago department store. This publicity stunt made all the difference in the world. A year later, over a million sets had been sold.”

While Pajeau and Pettit also found success with other, more traditional toys, Tinkertoys continued to be the Toy Tinker’s (as their company was called) meat and potatoes. In 1919, they added an electric motor to the mix and thus attracted an older audience interested in building airplanes and other mechanized creations. Soon after, they began releasing different kits, each with different numbers and types of pieces. The duo began to eschew other types of toys, making Tinkertoys their sole focus.

Tinkertoys enjoyed phenomental success in the 1940s, according to Hasbro.com , “For the next five years the Toy Tinkers experienced phenomenal success. In 1947, they produced over 2,500,000 Tinkertoy construction sets! In 1952 the company was profitable, had enormous brand awareness, and was popular with kids all over the United States.” However, by that time, Pettit had passed on and Pajeau was 77. Looking out for his company’s future, Pajeau sold the rights to Tinkertoys to A.G. Spalding Bros., Inc., who introduced many new pieces into the line and added the first color pieces.

In 1985, Playskool purchased the rights to the toy and released a re-imagined Tinkertoy set in 1992. Recalls Ideafinder.com, “In 1992, to freshen up in preparation for the big 80 birthday event, Playskool unveiled a major redesign to this classic toy of motion and construction. The new, all-plastic TinkertoyÃ?® sets feature brightly-colored, easy-to-assemble parts that allow kids to build bigger structures than ever before. Each set includes instructions to create vehicles that really roll, tall towers and even free moving Ferris Wheels.”

Tinkertoys have come a long way since their early days in Evanston, Illinois. They are one of the most popular playthings in toy history, and in 1998 became one of the very first products elected to the National Toy Hall of Fame . Not bad for a toy invented by a bored stonemason and a frustrated trader, now is it?

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