View-Master is the trademark name of a
line of special-format stereoscopes and corresponding View-Master
"reels", which are thin cardboard disks containing seven
stereoscopic 3-D pairs of small transparent color photographs on
film. It was originally manufactured and sold by Sawyer's.
The View-Master system was introduced in
1939, four years after the advent of Kodachrome color film made the
use of small high-quality photographic color images practical.
Tourist attraction and travel views predominated in View-Master's
early lists of reels, most of which were meant to be interesting to
users of all ages. Most current View-Master reels are intended for children.
A View-Master reel holds 14 film
transparencies in seven pairs, making up the seven stereoscopic
images. The components of each pair are viewed simultaneously, one by
each eye, thus simulating binocular depth perception.
There have been some 25 viewer models,
thousands of titles, and 1.5 billion copies of reels. Despite its
long history and many changes in models and materials, the basic
design of the viewer remained intact for reels and internal
mechanisms, ensuring that every reel will work in every model.
View-Master is part of the National Toy
Hall of Fame of the United States.
Eugene Mayer (right) worked as a pharmacist at Owl Drug store in
downtown Portland, Oregon, after serving in the U.S. Army in World
War I. He built up a photo-finishing business there, and bought into
Sawyer's Photo Finishing Service in 1919 with the help of his father
August Mayer (borrowed $3,500), his fiancee Eva McAnulty ($1,600 from
an insurance policy she got from her later father), and her sister Vi
McAnulty ($1,600 borrowed). The borrowed money was paid back within a
As the business grew, Ed Mayer
incorporated in about 1926, taking on partners Harold and Beulth F.
Graves, Thomas and Pauline Meyer, and Augusta and Raymond F. Kelly,
renaming the business Sawyer Service, Inc. The company relocated to a
large two-story building at 181 Ella St., near Morrison Street in
The company was producing photographic
postcards and album sets as souvenirs by 1926, when Harold Graves
joined Sawyer's. Graves handled marketing for the products while
Mayer ran the business. Later, photographic greeting cards were added
to the Sawyer's product line, marketed to major department stores.
Sawyer's was the nation's largest producer of scenic postcards in the
1920s and the future View-Master viewer eventually became an
extension of the two-dimensional cards.
Stereoscopic photography was not new and
was very popular as far back as the late 1800s where people would
take two nearly identical photographs of the same subject using a
dual lens stereo camera (above) in which the lenses were roughly the
same distance apart as the eyes on a human face. By capturing the
same image twice at slightly different angles, a 3D effect could be
achieved by looking at the two images using a stereoscopic viewer
such as the one to the left. Of course, these early stereo viewers
could only display a single image at the time, but the concept was
very popular. Mayer had developed a device for viewing stereo images,
but the View-Master as we know it came to be when Mayer and Graves
met with William Gruber, an organ maker of German origin trained by
Welte & Sons and an avid photographer living in Portland.
(Wilhelm) Gruber was born in Munich, Germany in 1903, the youngest
of three boys. The Gruber family was involved in the blacksmith
business. An average middle-class family they were not considered
wealthy, but young Wilhelm was lucky enough to get piano lessons and
to have a camera.
Grubers family expected him to
follow in his fathers trade as a blacksmith but his interests
At age 10 he became interested in
photography and won several photo contests in Germany. He thought he
would like to become a photographer and, at age 13, he started
working for a photography studio but didn't like being in the
darkroom all of the time. He worked on typewriters for a while and
then found a job with a Piano builder and became a piano tuner.
As he grew older and perfected his trade,
he came to know various people in and around Munich including a
retired American colonel who had retired to Germany after World War
I. Colonel Kunderatt, had a Welty player piano that had become one of
Gruber's specialties. Impressed with his his ability to repair these
complex instruments, the colonel arranged for William to get a job in
Los Angeles and immigrate to America.
Food shortages and inflation plagued
Germany after WWI. Gruber joined the National Socialist party, as
many others did at the time, because he believed that Hitler would
fix Germanys problems.
In 1924, at the age 21, he arrived in New
York, several men came to Ellis Island selling the new emigrants
railroad tickets to other destinations throughout the country. Gruber
bought a ticket to Los Angeles, only to find out later that the
ticket was fake. He had just enough money to get to Portland, Oregon
where he knew some-one else from Munich. He repaired pianos in
Portland to raise money to make it to Los Angeles but the L.A. job
was only offering $25 a week rather than the promised $35. He
returned to Portland, preferring the Pacific Northwest area because
it reminded him of so much of his native Germany. There, Gruber
pursued American citizenship and explored his passion for photography
in the scenic west coast environment. Despite the distance, he
remained in close contact with his familiy in Germany. Gruber made no
secret about his belief that Hitler would pull Germany out of the
hole it landed in after WWI, and bring it back to greatness.
Pro-German groups in Portland counted him among their members; he
espoused pro-Hitler views to customers while tuning their pianos.
These feelings would change over time&ldots; but they would come back
to haunt him.
Lenz grew up in Eastern Oregon. Her father died when she was only
two years old and her mother and stepfather raised her. They were not
very well off and, in order to have enough money to attend high
school, Norma worked as a housemaid. She worked for the Collins
family who owned the Collins & Erwin Piano Company. A bookkeeping
job opened up at the piano company. Norma had the necessary skills to
do the job because of her education at a commercial high school, and
although she originally planned to be a nurse, she accepted the
position at Collins & Erwin. It was there at Collins & Erwin
where she met William in 1935.
Gruber asked Norma out but she refused,
although impressed with his neat appearance, she felt he was too
short. Undaunted, Gruber asked her out every day for six months till
she finally said yes. They had so much fun that she decided that his
height didn't make any difference. They were married in 1938.
Gruber traveled to Medford, Oregon, to
work on a few pianos in the area, on a routine basis, several times a
year. That summer Norma had vacation time coming so she traveled with
him. They stayed at a honeymoon lodge and while they were there,
visited Oregon Caves. While toting around his dual-camera tripod to
snap stereoscopic images, Gruber ran into another photographer,
Harold Graves, who had been dispatched to take photos of deer for Sawyers.
Graves was intrigued by the curious set-up.
Gruber explained how he thought of the idea of using movie film to
make stereo pictures for use in a hand-held viewing device. He felt
that his idea would make it inexpensive to have stereo pictures
available to people in all walks of life. This viewer could display
3D images in color, preferably for educational purposes. In addition
to national parks and famous cities, the slides could provide
identification of plants and animals; a wheel of images could be
rotated with a manual lever.
Intrigued, Graves believed the images
could act as a postcard alternative, sold in photo and gift shops as
souvenirs. Gruber, who had long wished to strike gold with one
business idea or another, he once tried to grow mushrooms for a
living. Graves and Gruber had a lengthy two hour meeting where Gruber
told him all about his idea. Creating a viewer that would use a flat
circular disc with Kodachrome film transparencies mounted all around
the margin in such a way that two matching stereo pairs are always
opposite one another. Graves liked the idea and promised William that
he would look him up upon his return to Portland. It wasn't until
several hours later that Gruber wondered if he had told that fellow
TOO much. His idea had not been patented yet.
Graves took the idea to Edwin Mayer at
Sawyer's. But Sawyer's was in financial trouble at the time and could
not afford to buy William's idea because of a recent lawsuit over a
billboard that had fallen down injuring a woman. The court had
awarded her a $10,000 judgment and since Sawyers had no corporate
insurance, both Graves and Mayer had to mortgage their homes to pay
Later Norma said that William would have
probably sold his idea for $5,000 or so had Sawyer's offered it to
him. His invention would have then belonged to them and that would
have been the end of William's involvement. But because Sawyer's
lacked the available funds Mayer offered Gruber a commission instead.
A percentage amount based upon the number of items sold. Due to this
arrangement with the company, Gruber remained an important part of
their operation until his death in 1965.
The plan was to have the View-Master ready
for a 1939 debut at the Worlds Fair, but there was a stumbling
block. The lenses for the viewer were proving hard to source. Gruber
recommended Sawyers use a German optical firm, which could
produce the number needed at a reasonable 7.5 cents per lens. But by
the time the deal was completed, trade embargoes had made doing
business with Germany impossible. The firm refunded payment directly
to Gruber, who then cut a check to Sawyers.
Needless to say, a German-born citizen
being sent funds from Nazi-occupied Germany raised a flag with the
FBI. When confronted, Gruber had an explanation, and it was
legitimate, but there was also no denying that Gruber was a Nazi
sympathizer who had voiced his support of Hitler ever since he had
arrived in Portland in 1924. Shortly after the View-Master debuted at
the 1939 New York Worlds Fair, Gruber was remanded to Idaho,
where his assets were frozen and he faced charges of espionage. While
awaiting trial in Idaho, Gruber kept up a written correspondence with
Sawyers employees developing the final product, and,
occasionally, was granted permission to return to Oregon to solve
Ed Mayer and people within the Sawyer's
organization were uncertain what to call their new product, but they
eventually came up with the name "View-Master". The
View-Master brand name eventually came to be recognized by 65 percent
of the world's population, but William Gruber disliked the name,
thinking that it sounded too much like Toast-Master, Mix-Master, or
some other kitchen appliance. The actual viewing device was patented
in 1940. It later became know as the Model "A" viewer.
Earliest versions bear the words "Patent Applied For" and
were sold at National Parks and gift stores throughout the Pacific Northwest.
While View-Master got a welcome reception
from the general public in 1940, the rationing of film and paper made
it an expendable product. Sawyers feared that it would never
regain that momentum. But, the U.S. military saw an opportunity: The
View-Master was a perfect vehicle to show soldiers slides of aircraft
and ammunition for easy identification and the armed forces purchased
more than 10,000 View-Masters and 6 million reels. (Amid the
educational slides, a few risqué pin-up images of Bettie Page
found their way into circulation.)
It was word-of-mouth advertising
Sawyers could never have dreamed of buying. All the GIs who
were impressed by View-Master while deployed came home and told their
families about it. Instead of packing the household in a car for a
trip, they could spend $1 for a viewer with seven slides that
transported them anywhere they wanted to go. View-Master was an album
of vacation photos that didnt require a vacation.
The View-Master was intended as an
alternative to the scenic postcard, and was originally sold at
photography shops, stationery stores, and scenic-attraction gift
shops. The patent on the viewing device was issued in 1940, on what
came to be called the Model A viewer. Within a very short time, the
View-Master took over the postcard business at Sawyer's.
Three years after their first meeting, a
formal agreement was entered into on February 24th, 1942, between
Gruber and Sawyer partners, doing business as Sawyer's (View-Master,
model E pictured above). Gruber later returned to Portland and to his
normal life. Despite his Nazi advocacy, a federal judge had found
that he was not a spy or working for German forces and ordered that
his case be dropped. Gruber became a rehabilitated Nazi sympathizer,
realizing he had been mistaken about the Fuhrers leadership
qualities, he no longer made his politics public business.
Gruber never had much to do with business
of the View-Master, his passion remained photography. He continued
his photography work by training his lens on mushrooms and other
eclectic science subjects. Gruber had never intended View-Master to
be a toy. To him, it was like a pair of binoculars that could peer
deeply into images with amazing clarity and detail. Coin and stamp
collectors could keep a library of samples; rare birds could be
photographed and studied for distinctive traits.
After returning to Portland, Gruber struck
up a friendship with Dr. David Bassett, who was then teaching at the
University of Washington before moving on to Stanford. With
Bassetts assistance, Gruber wanted to use the potent visual
stimulus of the View-Master to record the human anatomy in exacting detail.
The project, A Stereoscopic Atlas of the
Human Anatomy, used dissected cadaver tissue to highlight intricate
maps of nerves, muscle, and tendons. Bassett and Gruber sliced open
brains and spinal cords, logging an unprecedented tour of the body.
Work on the Atlas consumed the remaining 14 years of his life until
his death in 1965, and to this day, the Atlas and its 1500 images are
considered to be one of the finest dissection projects ever captured
Gruber may not have thought of the
View-Master as a toy but, Sawyers took note of how much appeal
View-Master held for children. Beginning in 1944, the company hired a
sculptor, Florence Thomas, to craft customized scenes from fairy
tales and childrens stories that could be placed in a diorama
and photographed. Thomas produced a series of images from A Christmas
Carol, Alice in Wonderland, and the Bible. The reels were popular
sellers and essentially doubled View-Masters demographic.
Florence Thomas was the first and probably
the greatest 3D artist in the View- Master studios. She was certainly
the most prolific. She originated many of the techniques for making
stunningly beautiful 3D reels between the late 1940s and the early
1970s. She started work at Sawyers in 1944 and retired in 1971, with
some of her work not released until 1975.
Florence was a master sculptor and made
the miniature figurines out of clay. She painted them with
appropriate colors and fabric patterns. She also created the dioramas
and arranged the lighting. Originally she reputedly also did the
photography, but later it was done by others. From the photo evidence
she first photographed the left then the right eye view, shifting the
camera in between exposures. Between the two exposures she would also
shift and rotate some items to enhance the 3D effect.
Her artistry changed with time. The six
earliest reels had a slightly funky primitive look with great
vitality and strongly expressed emotions. All of her 1946 and 1948
dioramas have a beautifully painted background and great depth.
Florence created all kinds of stories from fairy tales, classic
stories, bible stories to Disney movie stories.
After the development of the View-Master,
Sawyer's, Inc. moved into a new building at 735 S.W. 20th Place in
downtown Portland (later leased to KPTV, Channel 12). The company
also occupied a building next door at 740 S.W. 21st Avenue. Years
later, Edwin Mayer and his Sawyer's partners purchased land in
Washington County near Progress, Oregon, west of Beaverton, and built
a large plant there in about 1951.
It would take decades, but the Beaverton
plant was found to have concentrations of the degreaser
trichloroethylene (TCE) more than 320 times the legal limit, much of
it seeping into the well water that employees drank. Several fell
ill; many self-reported diagnoses of cancer. It was closed
permanently in 2001. The plant has since been removed and developed
into a shopping center.
In 1951, Sawyer's purchased Tru-Vue, the
main competitor of View-Master. The takeover eliminated the main
rival and also gained Tru-Vue's licensing rights to Walt Disney
Studios. Sawyer's capitalized on the opportunity and produced
numerous reels featuring Disney characters like Davy Crockett, Bambi
and Donald Duck. The takeover paid off further in 1955 with reels of
the newly opened Disneyland. This was a time when color television
was scarce and there was no such thing as a home video market, a
child being able to revisit familiar characters, in Kodachrome color,
was a big deal. Though there was always an appetite for human
subjects: the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II sold 1.5 million
reels in just nine months.
Tru-Vue, was a subsidiary of Rock Island
Bridge and Iron Works, a manufacturer of stereoscopic filmstrips and
corresponding stereoscope viewers, based in Rock Island, Illinois,
from 19321951 and in Beaverton, Oregon, from 1951 until the
late 1960s. The film strips, or film cards, were fed through a slide
viewer similar to a View-Master, which was art deco or streamlined in
style. The viewers were made of bakelite and available in multiple
colors. When held up to light the images appeared in 3D. The films
were based on attractive scenery, children's stories, travel, night
life, and current events. After Sawyer purchased Tru-Vue it was a
subsidiary company but eventually, it became only a brand name. Both
View-Master and Tru-Vue products were manufactured into the 1960s by Sawyer's.
Tru-Vue is historically significant as a
bridge between the stereoscopic cards of the 19th century and the
View-Master reels of the mid-20th. Competitors of Tru-Vue included
the American company Novelview from the 1930s and the British
manufacturer Sightseer from the 1950s. Forgeries of Tru-Vue are also
known, including the British True-View from the 1950s that copied the
style of viewers, filmstrips, and film boxes, and a True-View viewer
made in Hong Kong during the 1950s that copied the shape of a Tru-Vue
viewer but accepted opaque cards instead of films.
In 1952, Sawyer's began its View-Master
Personal line, which included the View-Master Personal Stereo Camera
for users to make their own View-Master reels. It was successful at
first, but the line was discontinued in ten years. This line spawned
the Model D viewer, View-Master's highest-quality viewer, which was
available until the early 1970s, and the Stereomatic 500,
View-Master's only 3D projector. The other projectors were 2D and
used only one of the images.
The Model E was introduced in 1955 with a
more modern design, big ivory buttons on the picture changer levers,
and a large "V" slot on top for easier reel insertion. It
was released in brown and black in the United States, and some other
colors elsewhere. It was about 4 inches high, 5 inches wide, and 4
The Model F was introduced in 1958. It
used C-cell batteries to power an internal lighting source.
Industrial designer Charles "Chuck" Harrison led the team
designing the Model F View-Master. Fifty years later in 2008,
Harrison won the Cooper-Hewitt Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1962, the Bakelite models were replaced
with lighter plastic versions, the first of which was the Model G.
This change was driven by Sawyer's new president, Bob Brost, who took
over in 1959. The View-Master had been constructed originally from
Kodak Tenite plastic and then Bakelite, a hard, sturdy, somewhat
heavy plastic. The lightweight thermoplastic became the material of
choice under Brost.
In 1966, Sawyer's was acquired by the
General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation, and became a wholly
owned subsidiary. Under GAF's ownership, View-Master reels began to
feature fewer scenic and more child-friendly subjects, such as toys
and cartoons. Television series were featured on View-Master reels,
such as Doctor Who, (sold only in the UK) Rowan & Martin's
Laugh-In, Star Trek, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Family Affair, Here's
Lucy, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Actor Henry Fonda appeared in a
series of TV commercials for the GAF View-Master.
From 1970 to around 1997, there were
versions of "Talking View-Masters", which included audio
technology with the reels with three major designs with increasing
sophistication. In the early 1970s, GAF introduced the View-Master
Rear Screen projector, a table-top projector that displayed images
from picture wheels.
1980, View-Master released the Show Beam Projector, a toy that
combined the stereoscopic images and flashlight technology to produce
a portable hand-held projector. The Show Beam used small film
cartridges that were plugged into the side of the toy. Each cartridge
contained 30 full-color 2D images.
In 1981, GAF sold View-Master to a group
of investors headed by Arnold Thaler, and the company was
reconstituted as the View-Master International Group. They acquired
the Ideal Toy Company in 1984 and became known as the View-Master
Ideal Group, and were purchased by Tyco Toys in 1989.
Tyco, including the View-Master Ideal
Group, merged with Mattel Inc. in 1997. View-Master was placed
organizationally in Mattel's pre-school division and is now marketed
under the Fisher-Price imprint, who continues emphasis on juvenile content.
In March 2009, the Fisher-Price division
of toy maker Mattel announced that they had stopped production in
December 2008 of the scenic reels depicting tourist attractions.
These reels of picturesque scenes and landscape scenery were
descendants of the first View-Master reels sold in 1939. Fisher-Price
announced they would continue to produce reels of animated
characters. In late 2009, Alpha-cine announced it would take up
scenic reel production under an agreement with Fisher-Price.
In February 2015, Mattel announced a
collaboration with Google to produce a new version of View-Master
called the View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer, based on virtual
reality using smartphones. The new View-Master is an implementation
of the Google Cardboard VR platform, and is accompanied by a mobile
app that was built using its SDK. Content is displayed on a
smartphone screen; the phone itself is inserted into the back of the
unit. Instead of being inserted directly into the View-Master, reels
are scanned using an augmented reality interface which enables access
to content from the reel, such as 360-degree panoramas, 3D models,
and minigames. In 2016, an updated iteration known as the DLX was
released; it features improvements to its compatibility with smaller
phones, a more secure latch for the phone compartment, and also adds
focal adjustment and a headphone port.
Both editions of the View-Master VR were
discontinued in November 2019, and the Experience packs can no longer
be installed by new users.
In 2019, Mattel partnered with MGM to
announce an upcoming feature film based on the View-Master. The
project will be co-piloted by Robbie Brenner of Mattel's Films
division and MGM's Cassidy Lange.
A View-Master reel holds 14
film transparencies in seven pairs, making up the seven stereoscopic
images. The components of each pair are viewed simultaneously, one by
each eye, thus simulating binocular depth perception.
Hasbro is a syllabic abbreviation of its
original name, Hassenfeld Brothers, an American multinational
conglomerate with toy, board game, and media assets, headquartered in
Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Hasbro owns the trademarks and products of
Kenner, Parker Brothers, and Milton Bradley, among others. Among its
products are Transformers, G.I. Joe, Power Rangers, Rom, Micronauts,
M.A.S.K., Monopoly, Furby, Nerf, Twister, and My Little Pony.
Polish-Jewish brothers, Herman, Hillel, and Henry Hassenfeld founded
Hassenfeld Brothers in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1923, a company
selling textile remnants. Over the next two decades, the company
expanded to produce pencil cases and school supplies. In 1926,
Hassenfeld Brothers was incorporated; Hillel left for another textile
business while Henry took charge of the corporation. They began
making their own pencils when their pencil supplier began making
pencil cases as well.
Hassenfeld Brothers produced modeling clay
and then doctor and nurse kits as their first toys, and they became
primarily a toy company by 1942. Hillel died in 1943 and Henry
Hassenfeld became CEO, while his son Merrill became president. The
company entered the plastic fields during World War II to support its
toy line. Hassenfeld Brothers' first toy hit was Mr. Potato Head,
which the company purchased from George Lerner in 1952. The original
Mr. Potato Head was merely a handful of plastic pieces that were
meant to be stuck inside a real potato, but government regulations
ended that. In 1954, the company became a Disney major licensee.
1960, Henry died and Merrill took over the parent company, and his
older brother Harold ran the pencil-making business of Empire Pencil.
Hassenfeld Brothers expanded to Canada with Hassenfeld Brothers
(Canada) Ltd. in 1961. The company was approached in 1963 to license
a toy based on The Lieutenant, which they turned down because they
did not want to be tied to a possibly short-lived television series.
Instead, Hassenfeld Brothers produced the G.I. Joe toy in 1964 which
they termed an "action figure" in order to market it to
boys who wouldn't want to play with dolls. In 1964 and 1965, G.I. Joe
accounted for two-thirds of Hassenfeld's sales.
G.I. Joe, one of the most popular toys of
all time, was often credited to two creators: Stanley Weston, an Army
veteran and licensing agent who pitched the concept to Donald Levine,
Hasbros chief of research and development who shepherded it to
production by Christmas 1964. The original price was $4 a figure.
The company had previously sold toys under
the Hasbro trade name, and it shortened its name to Hasbro Industries
in 1968 and sold a minor stake in the corporation to the public. The
unpopular Vietnam War was at its height in 1969, so Hasbro redesigned
GI Joe to be less militaristic and more adventure oriented. Its
promotional efforts included the catchphrase "Boy Oh Boy! It's A
Hasbro Toy!" in television commercials and print ads. Also in
1969, Hasbro bought Burt Claster Enterprises which produced
"Romper Room" and had just begun a Romper Room toy line. In
1970, Hasbro began a plan of diversification and opened the Romper
Room Nursery School franchise chain to cash in on President Richard
M. Nixon's Family Assistance Plan which subsidized day care for
working mothers. By 1975, the company had ended the nursery chain.
Hasbro also entered the cookware field with the Galloping Gourmet
line based on a television cooking show.
new 1970s toys were public relations disasters. One of the toys was
named Javelin Darts which were similar to the ancient Roman plumbata
(what could possibly go wrong?). On December 19th, 1988, the Consumer
Product Safety Commission banned lawn darts from sale in the United
States due to their hazards as a flying projectile with a sharp metal
point causing multiple deaths.
The other toy was named The Hypo-Squirt, a
hypodermic needle-shaped water gun tagged by the press as a
"junior junkie" kit. Both were recalled. Romper Room and
its toy line had continued success, although Action for Children's
Television citizens group considered the program to be an advertising
channel for toys.
Merrill Hassenfeld took over as CEO in
1974, and his son Stephen D. Hassenfeld became president. The company
became profitable once again but had mixed results due to cash flow
problems from increasing the number of toys in the line to offset
G.I. Joe's declining sales. Hasbro ended the G.I. Joe line in 1975
because of the rising prices of plastic and crude oil. In 1977,
Hasbro's losses were $2.5 million, and the company held a large debt
load. That same year, Hasbro acquired licensing rights to Peanuts
cartoon characters. With the financial situation poor, Hasbro's
bankers made the company temporarily stop dividend payments in early
1979. The toy division's losses increased Harold Hassenfeld's
resentment regarding the company's treatment of the Empire Pencil
subsidiary as Empire received lower levels of capital spending
relative to profits than did the toy division.
Merrill's death in 1979, Harold did not recognize Stephen's
authority as the successor to the chairman and CEO position. As a
solution, Hasbro spun off Empire Pencil in 1980, which was the
nation's largest pencil maker, with Harold trading his Hasbro shares
for those of Empire. Stephen then became both the CEO and chairman of
the board. Between 1978 and 1981, Stephen reduced the Hasbro product
line by one-third and its new products by one-half. Hasbro focused on
simple, low cost, longer life-cycle toys like Mr. Potato Head. Hasbro
thus stayed out of the electronic games field which went bust in the
In 1982, Hasbro revived its G.I. Joe line
with the help of Marvel Comics, as an anti-terrorist commando based
on current events. The company launched the successful Transformers
toy line along with a children's animated TV series two years later.
With the toys and TV series being popular, Stephen Hassenfeld posed
with the toys for a People magazine cover photo.
1982, Hasbro produced the successful toy franchise My Little Pony.
In 1983, they purchased GLENCO, a manufacturer of infant products and
the world's largest bib producer, and Knickerbocker Toy Company, a
struggling Warner Communications subsidiary. In 1984, Alan G.
Hassenfeld took over as president from his brother Stephen, who
continued as CEO and chairman. That same year, the company was the
nation's sixth best-selling toymaker, and then acquired the Milton
Bradley Company, which was the nation's fifth best-selling toymaker.
This brought The Game of Life, Twister, Easy Money, and Playskool
into the Hasbro fold and transformed Hasbro into Hasbro Bradley.
Stephen Hassenfeld became the merged company's president and CEO,
with Milton Bradley chief James Shea Jr. taking the chairman
position. However, the executives clashed and Shea left after a few
months, and Stephen and Alan returned to their previous positions.
In 1985, the company changed its name
again to just Hasbro, Inc. The Jumpstarters toys were the subject of
a lawsuit in 1985 when Hasbro sued a toy manufacturer for selling
toys based on their Transformers design. Hasbro won the suit. By the
mid-1980s, Hasbro moved past Mattel to become the world's largest toy
company. Hasbro then moved to outsell Mattel's Barbie in the fashion
doll market with the 1986 introduction of Jem, a record producer/rock
musician dual identity fashion doll. Jem initially posted strong
sales but plummeted and was withdrawn from the market in 1987. Hasbro
followed up in 1988 with Maxie, a Barbie-sized blonde doll, so that
Barbie clothing and accessories would fit. Maxie lasted until 1990.
Under Alan Hassenfeld's initiative in the
late 1980s, Hasbro moved to increase international sales by taking
toys overseas that had failed in the US market and selling them for
as much as four times the original price. This increased
international sales from $268 million in 1985 to $433 million in 1988.
In 1988, Hasbro purchased part of Coleco
Industries' and in 1989, acquired bankrupt Coleco for $85 million.
Stephen Hassenfeld died later that year with the company having gone
from sales of $104 million in the year he took control to 1989 sales
of over $1.4 billion.
Hassenfeld succeeded Stephen as chairman and CEO, and continued to
grow purchasing Tonka Corp. in 1991 for $486 million, along with its
units Parker Brothers, the maker of Monopoly, and Kenner Products.
Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers were merged into one division.
Hasbro expand overseas with new units in Greece, Hungary, Mexico and Japan.
In the US, Hasbro's growth since 1980 were
from acquisitions and the leveraging of the new assets. New product
development was not as successful except for movie and TV tie-in
product lines with Jurassic Park and Barney. Thus, US sales were
stagnant in the early 1990s, falling from 1993 to 1995. To turn
domestic performance around in 1994, Hasbro merged the Hasbro Toy,
Playskool, Playskool Baby, Kenner, and Kid Dimension units into the
Hasbro Toy Group. Meanwhile, Mattel purchased Fisher-Price and retook
the top spot in the toy industry.
Hasbro Interactive was started in 1995 and
released the Monopoly game on CD-ROM. Mattel also proposed a merger
that year, but was turned down by the Hasbro board in 1996 due to
antitrust issues and Justice Department investigation into
exclusionary policies between toy manufacturers and toy retailers.
In 1998, Hasbro bought Avalon Hill for $6
million and Galoob for $220 million. In 1999 Wizards of the Coast was
bought in a deal worth $325 million. In 2001 money-losing Hasbro
Interactive was sold to Infogrames, a French software concern, for
$100 million. Hasbro entered the building block toy market with its
Built to Rule line in 2003, which did not hold together well or were
too hard for the targeted age group. The line ended in 2005.
2008, Hasbro acquired game maker Cranium, Inc. for $77.5 million,
and Brian Goldner was named CEO. Goldner became the first person not
from the founding Hassenfeld family to hold the position. Goldner
served as executive producer on the successful 2007 Transformers film
adaptation, which was credited for broadening Hasbro into a
character-based multimedia company. He continued this role on the
2009 films Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise
In 2009, Hasbro Studios was formed for TV
development, production and distribution. Hasbro collaborated with
Discovery on The Hub, a cable network targeting young children and
families, which launched on October 10th, 2010. The venture found
unexpected success with the television revival of the My Little Pony
franchise, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, which became the
network's highest-rated program and attracted a significant cult
following among teens and adults. The Hub Network was rebranded as
Discovery Family on October 13th, 2014.
In 2011, Greenpeace accused Hasbro of
purchasing paper for its packaging from ancient forests in Indonesia.
Hasbro changed its paper purchasing policy, earning the company
praise from Greenpeace executive director Phil Radford, who said:
"The new Hasbro policy will also increase the recycled and
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper in its toy
packaging. Hasbro's new commitments are great news for Indonesian
rainforests and the people and wildlife that depend on them."
been absent from the building block market since the failure of the
Built to Rule line, Hasbro re-entered the market with the Kre-O line
in late 2011, starting with some Transformers-based sets.
As a corporation Hasbro continued to grow.
In 2014 they tried and failed to buy DreamWorks Animation. In
September 2014, Disney announced that Hasbro would be the doll
licensee for the Disney Princess line formally held by Mattel. In
2017, Hasbro made a takeover offer for rival Mattel. Mattel rejected
the offer. In 2018, Hasbro came close to buying the Lionsgate film
company. They were more successful with Saban Brands, purchasing the
Power Rangers and other entertainment assets for US$522 million in
cash and stock. The sale, which also included My Pet Monster,
Popples, Julius Jr., Luna Petunia, Treehouse Detectives and
2018 saw Hasbro sign a number of licensing
agreements for hospitality deals based on Hasbro brands including a
Monopoly themed hotel and NERF family entertainment centers.
THE BATTLE FOR THE
In 2012 Mattel's Barbie sales began to
slip and they began paying more attention to Barbie and less on their
Disney Princess line. In 2013 the Mattel Toy Company launched the
fair and fantasy store-based Ever After High line. It was a line of
princess dolls unrelated to the Disney Princess dolls they were also
making at the time, and Disney wasn't happy with this move. Feeling
negelected by Mattel, with these competing princess doll lines and an
expiration of the brand license at the end of 2015, Disney gave
Hasbro a chance to gain the license given their work on Star Wars,
which led to a Descendants license. Disney Consumer Products also
made an attempt to evolve the brand from "damsels" to
"heroines." Their shared vision will have each Princess
seem more like an individual character, with slightly different
heights and waist sizes and features modelled on their animated
versions, rather than identical Barbie-ish figurine with painted-on
faces and different color dresses. In September 2014, Disney
announced Hasbro would be the licensed doll maker for the Disney
Princess line starting on January 1st, 2016.
IT'S NOT ALL FUN AND GAMES
has also been criticized for focusing some of its products on
specific demographic groups. Guess Who? had received complaints over
gender and ethnic bias in its choice of 24 images. A petition was
started calling on the company to create a "boy-friendly"
version of the popular Easy-Bake Oven and to feature boys on their
packaging and materials. Hasbro was criticized for "sexist"
product design when its 2015 Star Wars Monopoly board game failed to
feature Rey, the female protagonist in Star Wars: The Force Awakens,
while including all of the supporting male characters. Hasbro
explained that Rey was left out of the Monopoly game to avoid
spoilers, because the game was released months before the movies. On
January 5th, 2016, Hasbro announced that Rey would be included in
future versions. Hasbro later stated that it struggled to distribute
the updated Monopoly game that includes the Rey piece, because
retailers (especially in the United States) showed "insufficient
interest" after having already purchased stock of the first release.
This wasn't the only Rey related pop
culture controversy, Rey's lack of representation in Force Awakens
merchandise was the subject of an ever-growing hashtag campaign
called #WheresRey. It first took hold a month before The Force
Awakens opened, when the Star Wars fan site Legion of Leia noticed a
box set of action figures on sale at Target that included just about
everyone but Rey. Gwendoline Christie's super-Stormtrooper character,
Captain Phasma, was also absent from the box set. This same kind
exclusion also happened with Target's box set for Star Wars Rebels,
an animated Lucasfilm show that stars two integral female characters;
the box set omitted them in favor of a Stormtrooper and a clone
Hasbro has courted this kind of
controversy before, with tie-in merchandise for the Avengers films as
well as Guardians of the Galaxy. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and
Zoe Saldana's Gamora were also not part of the movies' respective
action figure box sets for Target, causing fan outrage. Hasbro made a
toy set to let kids mimic an Avengers: Age of Ultron scene in which
Black Widow dropped out of an aircraft while riding a motorcycle, but
for some reason replaced her with Captain America.
of Hasbro box sets, Marvel has often come under fire for excluding
female characters. In 2014, Gamora was left off boys' T-shirts, as
though she's not an integral Guardian of the Galaxy. A thorough and
thoroughly depressing Tumblr called "But Not Black Widow"
collects instances of merchandise that features Avengers heroes yet
excludes its sole heroine.
It's a problem that only got worse with
the 2015 release of Age of Ultron, when the outrage not only
resurfaced but also expanded to include Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlett
Witch, who was similarly absent. Clark Gregg, who played Agent
Coulson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and on the TV series Agents
of S.H.I.E.L.D., tweeted support for a "Where's Natasha?"
campaign. Even Mark Ruffalo, the Hulk himself, protested the absence
of Black Widow on behalf of his daughters.
In early August 2020, Hasbro produced a
DreamWorks Animation 12-inch Troll doll aimed at children 4 years and
older that "giggled 3 different ways when tickled." It
sings a version of the song "Trolls Just Want to Have Fun"
from the movie "Trolls World Tour." The doll can also say
"How about a hug?" and "Um, cupcake!"
Unfortunately the dolls sound activator was placed near it's
"naught bits" and the internet got upset. Especially one
person on the internet who imagined the Troll "giggles"
were sexual in nature and posted such on Facebook (because that's
what we do now). The poster put on her foil hat and cried conspiracy,
questioning whether the intent was to groom children for depravity.
Needless to say Hasbro said the placement of the activator was not
intentional and the company removed the device from the marketplace.
Score one point for the internet mob. Of course all this fuss may
make that doll very collectable in the future so, thanks internet mob.