Ohio Art Company

The Ohio Art Company manufactures and distributes toys in the United States and internationally, the most famous of which is the classic drawing toy, the Etch A Sketch. They also manufacture retail and wholesale custom metal lithography and molded plastic products.1

The origins of the Ohio Art Company are traced to when Henry Simon Winzeler, a dentist in Archbold, Ohio, became more interested in pursuing his art interests than in fixing teeth. Inspired by an oval mirror, Henry decided to use his plaster casting skills to make oval picture frames.2 In 1908, with $300 borrowed from friends, Henry and 15 employees launched the Ohio Art Company in a rented hall. He also sold his dental office and opened a grocery, the Hub Grocery, to provide a further financial basis for his new manufacturing endeavors.3

For the first two years all the oval metal frames were stamped out in nearby Toledo and then painted in Archbold. By 1910, Henry had purchased his own metal stamping machine and was producing 20,000 frames a day. These were inserted with inexpensive lithographed prints from Germany and sold through Sears, Roebuck & Co, Woolworth's, Kresge's, and Butler Brothers.4 The most famous of these was the image of the awake and asleep Cupids.

With the growth of the Ohio Art Company in 1912, Henry moved the company to the nearby town of Bryan and built the company’s own manufacturing plant.5 There he added lithography equipment with which they created wood-grain finishes on their metal frames and offered scale faces and advertising signage. After acquiring Chicago's Holabird Manufacturing Company in 1916, they expanded their product line to include advertising calendars.6

Due to the halt of German import toys during World War I, Ohio Art Company entered the toy industry in 1917. They began with manufacturing a thirteen inch high galvanized metal windmill that needed assembling. Other toys offered for just 10- 25 cents included lithographed metal small coaster wagons and carts, shovels, stick roller push toys, and an alarm clock bank.7

That same year they acquired the C.E. Carter Co.'s Erie Toy Factory and the Battle Creek Toy Manufacturing Company and eventually expanded their toy line to include sand pails, toy cars, circus trains, spinning tops, drum sets, tea sets, kitchen graniteware sets, and a climbing monkey.8 The Ohio Art Company employed talented artists in their lithography department, including Fern Bisel Peat, a well-known children's book illustrator in the 1930s and 1940s.9 During these decades, the Ohio Art Company was also capitalizing on the rise of Disney cartoons by depicting Disney characters on their toys.

Henry retired from active involvement in the Ohio Art Company in 1927 though he retained ownership. Lachlan M. MacDonald (“Mac”) became president and led the company through incorporation in 1930 and the acquisition of more companies: Mutual Novelty Manufacturing Company, which produced artificial icicles for Christmas trees; Veelo Manufacturing Company, which made dolls and stuffed animals; Delta Products, which manufactured electric appliances and car parts; and Household Appliance Manufacturing Company, which produced clothes dryers. That same year, fifteen year old Howard W. Winzeler (“Howie”), the son of Henry, began working part time at Ohio Art Company.

During the Depression, they continued to acquire companies, such as the Craftsman Studios (1931), which manufactured brass and copper tableware, and the print companies of Kenyon Company, Inc. and Detroit Publishing Company (1932).10 Howie began working full time in 1933, and when his father died in 1939, he was put on the board of directors and thus represented the Winzeler family, who retained controlling interest in the company. The following year Howie was made vice president at the age of 25.11

The Ohio Art Company suspended their manufacturing during World War II in order to make metal parts for rockets, bombs, and aircraft, for which they earned an “Excellence” award.12 After the war, they returned to manufacturing toys, some of which were now manufactured with the new plastics.

During this time of changing materials and an emerging baby boomer market, Howie became president of the company in 1953. Two years later, he lured William Casley Killgallon away from a rival toy company and made him sales manager. By 1957, William had joined the board of directors.

Howie would make toy history in 1959 when he bought the rights to the “Telecran” from the Frenchman Andre Cassagnes. Andre and Jerry Burger, the Chief Engineer at the Ohio Art Company, perfected the design and launched the Etch A Sketch in 1960.13 Utilizing aluminum powder and plastic pellets behind a glass window enclosed in a red plastic frame, sketchers made line designs by turning knobs that moved a hidden stylus vertically and horizontally. The stylus scraped the aluminum from the glass and produced a thin black line on the screen, which could be erased by turning the toy over and shaking the powder back into place.

With televised advertising and seals of approval from both Good Housekeeping and Parents magazines, the Etch A Sketch became a mainstay in the toy industry. Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold ten million Etch A Sketch toys during the 1960s alone.

The 1960s also brought stability to the Ohio Art Company, because they countered their seasonal toy sales with the incorporation of Strydel, Inc. Beginning in 1962, Strydel used Ohio Art Company's injection molding, lithography, and metal stamping operations to produce metal and plastic industrial components, such as metal signs and trays for Coca-Cola.

In 1966, William was elected to be president of the Ohio Art Company and was soon joined by his son, William (Bill) Carpenter Killgallon. William bought the Winzeler family's controlling interest in the Ohio Art Company in 1977, after which he became board chairman and Bill became president and chief executive officer. They were joined by another of William's sons, Martin (Larry) Killgallon.

At this point the company continued to license popular Disney characters as well as the animated figures of the Smurfs and Pac-Man. They also introduced the Lil' Sport line of kid-sized basketball, baseball, and soccer toys. The 1980s brought Etch A Sketch spin offs, including the Etch A Sketch Animator (1986), which was an electronic version that played back sketches to simulate animation. These spin offs continued in the 1990s with the color Etch A Sketch models in 1993 and the jewel toned pocket models in 1995.14 They also produced the Magna Doodle, another line of drawing screens.

In 1998, the Ohio Art Company introduced its own doll line, the Betty Spaghetty. Designed for kids aged four and up, these tall, thin dolls had interchangeable limbs, accessories, and spaghetti-like hair.15

With some financial difficulties in 1999, the Ohio Art Company secured new financing in 2000 to remain a viable company. One of the changes made during this time was moving the production of the marginally profitable Etch A Sketch to China. Then, on more secure financial footing, in 2003, they introduced the A.R.M. 4000XL, an ergonomical water gun designed to fit the player's arm.16

More recently, the Ohio Art Company entered the construction toy field with nanoblock, one of the smallest building block systems in the industry, and a single block construction system for preschoolers called the CLICS. Nanoblock was named the Best Toy of the Year at the ASTRA trade show in 2011.17

The K's Kids educational products were developed by a team of parents, childhood development professionals, and psychologists. This award winning line of baby and toddler toys utilizes the Learning Triangle, which emphasizes first the child's physical development, then their mental and cognitive development, and finally the social aspects of children's emotional development.

  • 1. “Ohio Art Co.” Bloomberg Businessweek. < http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/snapshot/snapshot_article.asp?ticker=OART:US > 20 Jan. 2012.
  • 2. Hoepf, Tom. “The Ohio Art Story.” Toy Collector. < http://www.toycollectormagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=160:the-ohio-art-story&catid=34:features&Itemid=62 > 20 Jan. 2012.
  • 3. “The Ohio Art Company.” Funding Universe. < http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/The-Ohio-Art-company-company-History.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
  • 4. Op.cit., Hoepf.
  • 5. “Our Story.” Ohio Art Company. < http://www.ohioart.com/our_story.jsp > 20 Jan. 2012.
  • 6. Op.cit., “The Ohio Art Company.”
  • 7. Op.cit., Hoepf.
  • 8. Op.cit., “The Ohio Art Company.”
  • 9. Op.cit., Hoepf.
  • 10. Op.cit., “The Ohio Art Company.”
  • 11. Op.cit., Hoepf.
  • 12. Op.cit., “The Ohio Art Company.”
  • 13. Op.cit., “Our Story.”
  • 14. Op.cit., “The Ohio Art Company.”
  • 15. Inglish, Patty. “HUBTRAILS: They Toys of Ohio Art Company.” HubPages. < http://pattyinglishms.hubpages.com/hub/The-Toys-of-Ohio-Art-Company > 20 Jan. 2012.
  • 16. Op.cit., “The Ohio Art Company.”
  • 17. Op.cit., “Our Story.”