Kenner Products was formed in 1947 by the Steiner brothers, Philip, Joseph, Albert, and Albert's son, Robert, as a soap, flavoring, and extract business.1 They named their new company Kenner, after the street their office was on in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Albert was inspired one day after watching a child dip a wand into a bottle and produce bubbles. After a beverage chemist explained how the bubbles were made to him, Albert was inspired to design the Bubble-Matic Gun, an aluminum bubble shooting pistol, which launched them into the toy business. With the manufacturing success of the gun, it was followed by the Bubble Rocket in 1949, which sold over one million units that first year.2
Joseph, who was in charge of sales and marketing, traveled throughout the United States and Europe promoting their growing line of products. In 1958, Kenner became one of the first toy companies to advertise nationally on television. They also became one of the sponsors of the Captain Kangaroo Show, a popular children's television show. Five years later they set up a year-round showroom in New York City to further market their toys.
By 1963, Kenner had added the Give-A-Show projector and the Girder and Panel Building Sets to their Bubble guns line.3 That same year they introduced the Easy-Bake Oven, which they had bought the rights for from the inventor Ronald Howes.4
The 1960s brought more Kenner products, such as the Gun that Shoots Around the Corner (1964) and the Close'n Play phonograph (1967). During one of his trips to England, Joseph met Denys Fischer, the inventor of the spirograph prototype.5 Kenner bought the licensing rights and with Ronald Howes refined the concept before the Spirograph was introduced in 1966.
General Mills Fun Group Inc. (GMFGI), a subsidiary of General Mills, Inc., bought Kenner in 1967. The Steiner brothers were all retired by 1971, while Robert remained for another year. Previously, GMFGI had acquired Rainbow Crafts, the Play-Doh creators, and in 1968 they purchased Parker Brothers, a game manufacturer.
Through reorganizing, Play-Doh was added to the Kenner Products line in 1970. Also during that decade the Jukebox was added in 1971, a baby doll, Baby Alive, was introduced in 1973, and Stretch Armstrong, an expandable toy, was produced in 1976.
Most significantly, the decade would signal the beginning of Kenner's action figures. In 1975, Kenner broke the $100 million sales mark, largely through the manufacture of the Six Million Dollar Man action figures, one of the industry's first television license agreements.6 This agreement was followed by the license for Star Wars products starting in 1977. The following year Kenner broke the $200 million sales mark, largely due to the popularity of Stars Wars.
In the 1980s and 1990s Kenner would continue this pattern with action figures for Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back (1980), Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983), Super Powers (1984), M.A.S.K. (1985), Real Ghostbusters (1986), Starting Lineup (1988), Batman (1990), the Jurassic Park line (1993), Steel (1997), and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1997).7
During this time, in 1976, Kenner Products moved their headquarters from Kenner Street to Vine Street in Cincinnati and in 1983, they moved their manufacturing to Tijuana, Mexico. Two years later, Kenner Parker Toys, Inc. became independent from GMFGI.
Along with their action figure products, Kenner introduced Strawberry Shortcake mini-dolls in 1980, four more colors of Play-Doh, and the Care Bears plush toys in 1983.
More changes came in 1987 when Tonka Corporation acquired Kenner Parker Toys and established four divisions: Kenner Products, Parker Brothers, Tonka Products, and Tonka International. This arrangement lasted four years until Tonka was purchased by Hasbro, Inc. in 1991. With the resulting restructuring, Kenner's Play-Doh was moved to the Playskool Division, and Parker Brother's Nerf line was moved to Kenner as was also Tonka's Cupcake doll.
Further restructuring occurred in 1994 when Hasbro created the Hasbro Toy Group by combining Kenner Products, Tonka Products, and Playskool. Their Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Divisions became Hasbro Games Group.
The 1990s brought the reintroduction of Baby Alive (1990) and the line of miniature pets in the Littlest Pet Shop (1993). In 1993, the Nerf line expanded with new products, such as the Nerf Arrowstorm, the NB-1, Nerf Ballzookas, and the Sharpshooter. Ricochet, a radio-controlled vehicle, was introduced in 1994, and the XRC Crashback, an “unsmashable” radio-controlled vehicle debuted in 1997. That same year the die-cast NASCAR line, Winner's Circle, was launched and Hasbro sponsored Kenny Irwin's NASCAR entry.
Along with these products, Kenner continued their entertainment industry action figures and related products for the prequel Star Wars movies, the further Batman movies and television animation shows, and the Jurassic Park sequel.
Hasbro closed Kenner's Cincinnati operations in 2000, after 53 years in the toy industry.
- 1. Skomial, Marcin. “Joseph L. Steiner, 95, a Founder of a Well-Known Toy Maker.” The New York Times. 15 May 2002. < http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0B1EFA395D0C768DDDAC0894DA404482 > 10 April 2011.
- 2. “The History of Kenner.” KennerToys.com. <http://web.archive.org/we/20050309203126/www.kennertoys.com/history/history2.html> 27 Jan 2011.
- 3. “What is Girder and Panel?” Bridge Street Toys. < http://www.bridgestreettoys.com/abouttoy/index.html > 10 April 2011.
- 4. “Ronald Howes.” Easy Bake. < http://www.easybakeoven.ca/howes.cfm > 10 April 2011.
- 5. Op.cit., Skomial.
- 6. Op.cit., “The History of Kenner.”
- 7. Op.cit., “The History of Kenner.”