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Today we’re going to explore the legendary origins and history of Kenner Toys, the company behind… Baby Alive, Banjo-Matic, Batman, Beetlejuice, Care Bears, Cassette Movie Projector, Close and Play Record Player, Easy Bake Oven, Ghostbusters, GI Joe Extreme, Hardy Boys, Hugo Man of a Thousand Faces, Jurassic Park, Knight Rider, Play-Doh, Predator, Raiders of the Lost Ark, RoboCop, Six Million Dollar Man, Spirograph, Star Wars, Strawberry Shortcake, Stretch Armstrong, Terminator Transformers and many, many more!
If there was a popular movie or TV show back in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s there’s a good chance Kenner was crankin’ out a line of toys for it! But their history goes back farther than that. (echo voice) MUCH FARTHEEEEEERRRRRR!——-
(scooby doo diddly doo wavy time travel transition)
LET’S GO BACK TO THE 1940’s!
Kenner Products was founded in 1946 by 3 brothers, Phillip Joseph and Albert Steiner along with Albert’s son Robert in Cincinnati, Ohio in an office located on KENNER STREET! Their company actually started out as an extract, soap and flavoring business. Every foul-mouthed kid around the world owes a debt of gratitude to the Steiner family for without whom, there would be no flavor at all while their mouths are being washed out with soap! Ask me how I know!
Kenner Products’ very first toy was released in 1947; the Bubbl-Matic Bubble Gun which was an aluminum bubble-shooting gun designed by Albert Steiner who became inspired by watching children play with bubble wands (presumably after their little foul mouths had been washed out with soap!) He consulted with a beverage-chemist who explained how the bubbles were made then threw himself into the design lab until he eventually emerged with the perfect gateway firearm for children. The Bubbl-Matic Bubble Gun!
Seeing as how the new bubble gun was a natural fit to accompany their line of soap products, Joseph Steiner, head of sales and marketing, took the Bubbl-Matic Bubble Gun under his wing and proceeded to fly throughout America and Europe touting it internationally.
The most notable moments in history for Kenner in the 1950’s would be …
1957: Kenner releases their Girder and Panel Building sets which they become synonymous with for almost 2 decades.
1958: Kenner becomes the first toy company to run national television advertising and becomes one of the first sponsors of the Captain Kangaroo Show!
Hey man, in the early 60’s Kenner created and introduced it’s corporate mascot, the Gooney Bird!
1963: Kenner brought us some brownies by giving birth to the legendary Easy Bake Oven which they acquired the licensing rights from inventor Ronald Howes. Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten a tiny chocolate cake cooked by a light bulb!
1966: Kenner reimagined a set of psychedelic architectural design tools and gave us the Spirograph which was invented by Denys Fischer whom Joseph Steiner met during one of his many trips to merry old England. Kenner ended up purchasing the licensing rights and teamed up once again with Ronald Howes to further refine the concept before spinning the Spirograph into homes across the globe!
1967: Kenner’s awesomeness gets noticed and they get bought out by the man! General Mills purchases Kenner and grows them to become the world’s 4th largest toy company and brings Play-Doh into the Kenner line of toys along with the Close and Play Phonograph which finally made it safe for young children and spaced-out hippies to play records!
1971: The founders of Kenner, the Steiner Brothers retire as extremely wealthy men and proceed to live out their days at Studio 54!? Or maybe they just paraded around with top hats, monocles and diamond-encrusted walking sticks just because they could! Who knows what they did!? They were rich baby!
1974: Kenner also retires the Gooney Bird. Who loves ya Gooney!? Not Kenner!
1976: Kenner purchases the licensing rights for the initial line of toys for Star Wars for only $25k and 5% royalties making it one of the most lucrative deals in toy business history and this helps propel Kenner’s annual revenue to over $200 million in sales!
In addition to Star Wars, during this time period they also produced the toys for the Six Million Dollar Man TV show which goes down in history as the world’s first successful license for a toy line based on a television show!
Also during this time, Kenner Products makes the decision to move from their headquarters on Kenner Street in Cincinnati and into their new headquarters on Vine Street in Cincinnati as well as relocating their manufacturing to Tijuana, Mexico.
1984: Kenner produces the Super Powers Collection of DC Comics superhero characters!
1987: Kenner is purchased by… Tonka??? The big yellow toy dump trucks and tractors company? Huh? Anyway, apparently Tonka got busy and places NERF under the spongey, bouncy management of Kenner and annual sales grow to over $300m!
1990: Kenner releases Batman, the Dark Knight Collection!
1991: Kenner continues getting passed around like a cheap hot potato and are purchased by Hasbro!
Fast forward to 1998: Kenner releases the Jurassic Park Chaos Effect line of toys which suffer poor sales coupled with Star Wars The Phantom Menace line of toys which also bomb horribly leading to Hasbro closing down Kenner in the year 2000 as part of a plan to reduce operating costs by 5 percent across the board. 100 Kenner employees were transferred and absorbed into Hasbro while 420 had to hit the skids!
And there you have it! The 50+ year history of Kenner Toys! A tale of childhood memories permanently carved into the cornerstones of American folklore as well as the world’s. A tale of humble beginnings, monumental fortunes, corporate buyouts and the ultimate demise of a legendary, iconic brand. Kenner, we give a big DANDY FUN HOUSE salute to you!
And if you would like to salute US here at the Dandy Fun House and support the creation of future productions, you may do so by visiting our patronage page at dandyfunhouse.com. Supporters gain access to exclusive bonus features and Super Supporters not only gain access to those bonus features, but I’ll also mail you some crazy stuff from around my house that Mrs. Dandy is dying for me to get rid of!
Oh and before I go I would like to give proper acknowledgement to my resources for this presentation. First a big Dandy Fun House shout out to Warren Rehberg at Ohio Nerd Toys and Collectibles. You can find his awesome Ohio-centric show on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEU-vn5YA3cvY1M18odXGPg .
I also researched from the website kennercollector.com which is an absolute wealth of information and just about anything you would ever want to know about all things Kenner!
Play and Playground Encyclopedia http://www.pgpedia.com
and of course… Wikipedia.
Thanks for hanging out with us here at the Dandy Fun House and come back soon where everything is always… FUN AND DANDY!