Coleco was a toy developer and manufacturing company that was most famous for the home video game system, ColecoVision, and the Cabbage Patch dolls. The company also produced wading pools, doll carriages, tabletop hockey games, electronic hand-held games, Power Cycle plastic tricycles, pinball machines, pool tables, and sleds.
Martin Greenberg founded the Connecticut Leather Company, a supplier of leather to shoemakers, in 1932 in Hartford, Connecticut. Coleco, an abbreviation of Connecticut Leather Company, was a family business that increasingly involved Martin’s two sons, Leonard and Arnold.
In the 1950s, Leonard designed a leather cutting machine and expanded the business into leather craft kits.1 By the 1960s, he was exploring the new world of plastics through the manufacturing of wading pools. This was so successful that he sold the leather business and acquired the Kestral Corporation, which made inflatable backyard pools. By the end of the 60s, Coleco was one of the largest makers of above-ground swimming pools.2
As a lawyer, Arnold joined Leonard in managing Coleco in 1966. For the next 16 years, they were joint CEOs until 1982 when Leonard began to focus mainly on personal investments and charities. He continued as chairman of the executive committee while Arnold continued as CEO.3
After the swimming pools acquisition, the brothers acquired a doll carriage company and a tabletop hockey game manufacturer. They also briefly explored manufacturing snowmobiles and dirt bikes.4 Beginning in 1976, Coleco entered the arena of electronic games when they introduced Telstar, an electronic table tennis video game similar to Pong. They diversified in this field by offering hand-held electronic games, a stable source of revenue for Coleco as they became one of the top producers of these portable games.5
As Atari and Mattel competed for control of the video game system market in 1982, Coleco launched ColecoVision, which had superior sound, graphics, and expansion possibilities.6 The ColecoVision was bundled with Donkey Kong and a 2600 adapter that expanded the system to play any Atari 2600 games. Later, they offered the Gemini, which was a single system clone of the Atari 2600.
The ColecoVision introduced the concepts of expandable hardware and the adaptability to play games from other systems. Their own game cartridges drew largely from the arcade genre, aided by the licensing rights to all Midway coin-operated arcade games, which they acquired in 1981.7 They also collaborated with Sega, Konami, and Universal. Some of these early games included Mouse Trap, Donkey Kong Jr., Zaxxon, Spy Hunter, War Room, Pepper II, and Fortune Builder. Coleco also manufactured game cartridges for the Atari's VCS and Mattel's Intellivision systems.8
The electronic gaming industry was shifting quickly away from the gaming consoles towards the home computer set up which included game options. Coleco shifted with the industry and in 1983 launched Adam, a low cost home computer and word processing system. The Adam had numerous technical problems, the electronic gaming industry had a significant “crash,” and the computer market shifted again to a higher price bracket of systems. Coleco pulled Adam from the market and shut down manufacturing video games and consoles.
At the same time as Adam was introduced in 1983, Coleco also introduced the Cabbage Patch Kids.9 Created and initially promoted by Xavier Roberts, an art student at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ohio, Coleco changed their name from the Little People to the Cabbage Patch Kids and began mass producing them to meet the growing demand of the “must-have” item for Christmas 1983. Even though they had production shortages, they ended up with record sales of $600 million in 1985.10 They expanded on the Cabbage Patch line with such related toys as Cabbage Patch ponies, Cabbage Patch with a first tooth, and Cabbage Patch twins.
Building on the success of their new doll division, in 1986, Coleco introduced ALF, a plush doll based on the NBC sitcom of an Alien Life Form who crashed on earth, concurrently with the premier of the ALF television show.11 At this time, Coleco was the distributor of both Scrabble and Parcheesi board games12 as well as manufacturing Power Cycle tricycles, Dr. Seuss characters, sleds, pinball machines, and pool tables.
- 1. Kleinfield, N.R. “Coleco Moves Out of the Cabbage Patch.” The New York Times. July 21, 1985. < http://www.nytimes.com/1985/07/21/business/coleco-moves-out-of-the-cabbage-patch.html?pagewanted.all > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 2. “ColecoVision: The Arcade Quality Video Game System.” Classic Gaming. < http://classicgaming.gamespy.com/View.php?view=ConsoleMuseum.Detail&id=24&game=8 > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 3. Op.cit., Kleinfield.
- 4. Op.cit., “ColecoVision:”
- 5. Op.cit., Kleinfield.
- 6. Op.cit., “ColecoVision:”
- 7. “Coleco Industries, Inc. (Inventors of ColecoVision and Cabbage Patch doll's).” Scripophily. < http://scripophily.net/coininnewyoc.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 8. Op.cit., “ColecoVision:”
- 9. “Cleveland's Cabbage Patch Kids turn 25.” AccessNorthGa.com. Sep. 7, 2008. < http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=213040 > 22 Apr. 2012.
- 10. Op.cit., “ColecoVision:”
- 11. “Coleco Plays the Odds, Pays For Ads For 'Alf'.” Los Angeles Times. August 26, 1986. < http://articles.latimes.com/1986-08-26/entertainment/ca-17809_1_alf-products > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 12. Op.cit., “ColecoVision:”
- 13. “COMPANY NEWS; Hasbro's Purchase of Coleco's Assets.” New York Times. July 13, 1989. < http://www.nytimes.com/1989/07/13/business/company-news-hasbro-s-purchase-of-coleco-s-assets.html > 20 Jan. 2012.