Playskool, Inc. manufactures preschool and infant toys that engage young children in play and learning. What began as the idea of two retired women schoolteachers continues today with the belief that “Play is nature's classroom.”1
In 1928, Lucille King and a colleague at the John Schroeder Lumber Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, designed wooden toys that could be used in a classroom to “stimulate minds and develop coordination.” The lumber company agreed to the plan, and the Playskool Institute was created as a subdivision. Within two years they were producing over 40 different toys that were advertised as “Playthings with a Purpose.” From the beginning Playskool's toys were supported by experts on child guidance and development.2
During the U.S. Depression in 1935, Thorncraft, Inc., a Chicago manufacturer, acquired Playskool. They in turn sold the company to Chicago's Joseph Lumber Company in 1938. As president of the lumber company, Harry Joseph hired Manuel Fink, a Chicago department store buyer, to lead the Playskool division. Manuel hired Robert J. Meythaler, an accountant and amateur woodworker, to assist him. Together, Manuel and Robert prospered the division, bought the division themselves, and then subsequently named it the Playskool Manufacturing Company.3
Some of the early Playskool toys included a folding wooden desk stocked with blocks, crayons, and clay; a shoemaker's bench; a collapsible wooden dollhouse;4 and intelligence building toys like a wooden mailbox that had different shaped holes and pegs. They built on the educational aspect of their toys by advertising in Psychology Today, Parents,and Redbook magazines.5
Playskool expanded their educational toy selection by acquiring the J.L. Wright Company in 1943 and Holgate Toys in 1958. John Lloyd Wright, the son of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was the creator and manufacturer of Lincoln Logs, an interlocking log construction toy, which has become an American toy classic.6 Holgate Toys, guided by a child psychologist during the 1930s, had hired Jerry Rockwell, brother of artist Norman Rockwell, to design educational toys. When Holgate Toys was acquired, Jerry began designing toys for Playskool, some of which included nesting blocks, stacking rings, lacing shoes, pegboards, and the famous Tyke bike.7
The 1960s brought two more companies into the Playskool company: the South Bend Toy Manufacturing Company in 1960 and the Halsam Company in 1962. South Bend Toy specialized in doll carriages and wooden outdoor games like croquet and horse shoes. Halsam Company, a manufacturer of blocks, included the Embossing Company, which manufactured embossed wooden alphabet blocks, checkers, and dominoes.8
Playskool's sales, which were a respectable $12 million in 1960, rose dramatically to $23 million in 1966. Besides acquiring four solid companies whose products complimented Playskool's existing products, the new federal Operation Headstart program greatly expanded their market of educational toys during those years.9
The increased demand for products meant building new factories, which in turn dropped their earnings. In 1968, as Manuel and Robert were retiring, Playskool was bought by the Milton Bradley Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. As a subsidiary, Playskool retained their headquarters in Chicago, continued to focus on preschool and infant toys, began advertising on television's “Captain Kangaroo,” and continued to advertise to parents and teachers through magazines, such as McCall's, Instructor, and Good Housekeeping.10 A decade later, in the late 1970s, Playskool entered the electronic toys field with Alphie, a chunky and chatty robot, who played guessing games as well as music.11
Milton Bradley, including the Playskool division, was acquired by Hasbro, Inc. in 1984. This management change led to the closure of the Playskool office and manufacturing complex in northwest Chicago, which led to a lawsuit and a boycott of Hasbro. This dispute was resolved when Hasbro reopened the factory until it could retrain and relocate the 700 workers affected by the consolidation.12 The Playskool headquarters was then relocated to Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Under Hasbro, Playskool continued to focus on products for children under six years of age. This included “adopting” Hasbro's Play-Doh, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, and the Gloworm13 as well as expanding their infant products with walkers, swings, crib toys, and the Tommee Tippee brand of bibs and bottles.
Being faithful to their educational roots, Playskool organized a line of their infant and toddler toys around their Ages and Stages rating system, which was correlated with the four levels of early child development.14 In 1995, the Dutton publishing company partnered with Playskool to offer a series of preschool books color coded to match Playskool's Ages and Stages program.
Also in the 1990s, Playskool moved into license agreements beginning in 1991 with the talking teddy bear, Teddy Ruxpin, and expanding to the Barney dinosaur in 1993, the television character Arthur, and the British Teletubbies in 1998. These agreements included the rights to manufacture peripheral products, such as accessories, play figures, dolls, and software. Playskool also agreed to develop products based on popular Nickelodeon shows.
Playskool's focus on the importance of play has been evident in their advertising. In 1997-1999 their key slogan was “Wanna play with us?” which was later followed by “Let's Play!” in 2004-2007, “Believe in PLAY” in 2007-2009, and “More Than Play” in 2009-2011. These slogans reflect their belief that “Play stimulates the senses, engages the imagination, encourages children's curiosity, and empowers their sense of self confidence by allowing them to discover the world around them at their own pace.”15
- 1. “The PLAYSKOOL Story.” PLAYSKOOL. < http://www.hasbro.com/playskool/en_US/discover/for-parents/why-playskool.cfm > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 2. “Playskool, Inc.” Funding Universe. < http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Playskool-Inc-company-History.html > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Op.cit., “The PLAYSKOOL Story.”
- 5. Op.cit., “Playskool, Inc.”
- 6. Op.cit., “Playskool, Inc.”
- 7. “Playskool Manufacturing Company.” Lehman Brothers Collection, Harvard Business School Baker Library Historical Collections. < http://www.library.hbs.edu/hc/lehman/chrono.html?company=playskool_manufacturing_company > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Op.cit., “Playskool, Inc.”
- 10. Op.cit., “Playskool, Inc.”
- 11. Op.cit., “The PLAYSKOOL Story.”
- 12. Op.cit., “Playskool, Inc.”
- 13. Op.cit., “The PLAYSKOOL Story.”
- 14. Op.cit., “Playskool, Inc.”
- 15. “More Than Play.” Hasbro Playskool. < http://www.hasbro.com/playskool/en_US/discover/more-than-play/ > 28 Nov. 2011.