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A Brief History of Hasbro -or- How the Suits Ate the World
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There's a great scene in the film "The Pirates of Silicon Valley" in which Bill Gates confronts Steve Jobs and reveals that he's stabbed Apple in the back - that Microsoft is taking over the world. A stunned and furious Jobs shouts out, "We're better than you!", to which Gates calmly replies, "That doesn't matter."

I couldn't help but think of this scene as I researched this GeekList. Let's face it, if you are reading these words you are the gaming equivalent of an Apple user. The vast majority of people however - those with hall closets stuffed full of boxes with Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley stamped on them - are Microsoft users, except that in the gaming world Microsoft is called Hasbro...

We often talk about Hasbro here. Usually it's in angry and cynical tones. Hasbro is THE MAN, THE SUITS, the thing eats up art and spits out corporate mediocrity. But who is Hasbro and how did it become a corporate giant? Fortunately the company isn't shy about its rise to glory and will happily tell you all about it (at least the Walt Disney version) on its various web pages.

Although the movie analogy above is in some ways apt, in other ways its not really fair. Hasbro did indeed come up with some major cash cow products on its own. And what do you do when you have a lot of money but only a few good products? You look at your competitors that have good (perhaps better) products and, either through mismanagement or corporate restructuring, are looking to sell out. You then buy the company, market its money makers, and throw the rest of its product in the closet. Maybe you'll eventually sell the excess, and maybe not.

All this comes later however. In fact, Hasbro was a rather benign company for many decades. It wasn't until the eighties that it began to eat the world. The truth is that the #1 maker of toys and board games didn't begin as a board game company or even as a toy company. No, its roots are much more humble. Let us take a trip in time and watch its seed grow, taking side notes of companies that it will eventually feed on. Our story begins in Providence, Rhode Island during the Roaring 20s...
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1. Board Game: In the Beginning [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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-The 1920's-

1923: Henry and Helal Hassenfeld found Hassenfeld Brothers, a company that sells textile remnants. Before long they move into manufacturing pencil boxes and school supplies.

Meanwhile...

In 1928 two teachers from Milwaukee begin making educational toys for pre-school children and found the company Playskool. The company struggles during the depression and is bought and sold no less than 5 times. In 1940 it is purchased by two Chicago entrepreneurs, Manual Fink and Robert Meythaler, who dramatically expand the business into a household name. Upon retiring in the late 1960's, they sell Playskool to the Milton Bradley Company.
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2. Board Game: Monopoly [Average Rating:4.46 Overall Rank:10960]
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-The 1930's-

Hassenfeld Brothers evidently weathers the depression by selling its pencil boxes and school supplies.

Meanwhile...

In 1935, Parker Brothers acquires and releases Monopoly. It goes on to become the world's all-time best-selling game. Parker Brothers began in 1883 when 16 year-old George Parker self-published his own game - Banking. The George S. Parker Company would eventually become Parker Brothers when older brothers Charles, and later Edward, joined the team. George Parker designed over 100 games. He died in 1953 at the age of eighty-six. In 1968, the company would throw in the towel and sell out to food conglomerate General Mills, the second largest cereal manufacturer behind Kellogg's.
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3. Board Game: Tonka Search & Rescue Game [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
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-The 1940's-

Merrill Hassenfeld, son of Henry, becomes president of Hassenfeld Brothers. The company expands its school supply line to include crayons and paint sets. It also releases its first toys, doctor and nurse kits.

Meanwhile...

In 1947, the Mound Metal Company, located near Lake Minnetonka in Mound, Minnesota, releases the first Tonka Trucks. MMC started off manufacturing lawn and garden implements. Another company asked if they could manufacture some steel toys. Mound Metal soon changed its name to Tonka, and a toy legend was born. Its yellow dump truck, released in 1965, became its biggest seller. The company went on to buy out Kenner Parker Toys in 1987. In 1996, it was itself bought out by Hasbro.
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4. Board Game: Scrabble [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:1119]
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And...

In 1948, Scrabble debuts exclusively at Macy's department store in New York. The game was designed by Alfred Butts, an architect with a passion for games. Originally called Lexico, the game was turned down by both Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley. Realizing he was no businessman, Butts sold the rights James Brunot, a gaming entrepreneur who dealt in crosswords. Brunot streamlined the game, changed its name to Scrabble, and eventually licensed the manufacture to Selchow and Righter - a games manufacturer that had also previously rejected it. Outside the US and Canada, the rights to Scrabble went to Spear & Sons. In 1986, Selchow and Righter sold out to Coleco who went bankrupt the next year. The rights to Scrabble in the US and Canada was then purchased by Hasbro and added to its Milton Bradley line.
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5. Board Game: Candy Land [Average Rating:3.18 Overall Rank:10966]
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And...

In 1949, Milton Bradley releases Candyland. This children's favorite was designed by Eleanor Abbott, a recovering polio victim who designed games for children with polio.

Milton Bradley (the person) started a lithograph business in 1860. His best seller was a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. One day, a friend challenged him to a game. He was so inspired that he decided to make a game of his own - The Checkered Game of Life. This would eventually evolve into The Game of Life which would become the signature game of the Milton Bradley stable. In 1880 Bradley expanded his business to include jigsaw puzzles. Eventually the company would become the number one maker of games and puzzles in the world. Milton Bradley died in 1911, but his company continued to grow and prosper. All good things come to an end though - in 1984, the Milton Bradley Company and its subsidiary, Playskool Inc., would sell out to Hasbro.
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6. Board Game: Memory [Average Rating:4.70 Overall Rank:10929]
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-1950's-

1952: Hassenfeld Brothers scores its first big hit with the release of Mr. Potato Head. Invented by George Lerner, Mr. Potato Head was originally just the facial pieces to be stuck into real fruits and vegetables. Turned down by many toy makers (what parent would waste food on a toy?), it eventually became a prize in children's cereal boxes. Lerner soon bought the rights back and sold the toy to Hassenfeld Brothers. This would become the company's first cash cow. It has the distinction of being the first toy to be advertised on television. Mr. Potato Head was first released with just the facial pieces, then with a Styrofoam body, and, in 1964, his own plastic body. In 1966 he would be joined by Mrs. Potato Head and God only knows how many other licensed products.
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7. Board Game: Clay-O-Rama [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:4052]
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Meanwhile...

In 1956, Rainbow Crafts releases Play-Doh. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, Rainbow Crafts was founded by Joe McVicker who, while working for a chemical company, came across a non-toxic putty used for cleaning wall paper. He sent some of the soft clay compound to his sister, a preschool teacher, to use as a toy in her classes and soon the Cincinnati Board of education was using it in all its elementary schools. Play-Doh was originally released only in white, but in 1957, the famous four-pak including white, red, blue, and yellow hit the shelves. In 1960, the Play-Doh Fun Factory was released to tremendous success. In 1965, Rainbow Crafts was bought out by the food conglomerate, General Mills. Play-Doh's recipe is still a closely guarded secret although it is known to contain, among other things, wheat flour, water, salt, and some sort of petroleum distillate, so it was logical for a food company to buy the rights. But since it needed to be sold and marketed as a toy, it was also logical for General Mills to start buying out toy companies. To date, over seven hundred million pounds of Play-Doh have been sold.
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8. Board Game: Tactics II [Average Rating:5.29 Overall Rank:10663]
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And...

In 1958, Avalon Hill releases Tactics II - considered by many to be the first true war game. AH was founded in Baltimore, Maryland by game designer Charles Roberts in order to publish his own games. By 1962, the company had fallen into debt, in particular to its printer Monarch Services who ended up buying and running it. At first AH published only in-house games, but by the 70's had began buying titles from 3M and re-publishing them. When SPI collapsed, AH hired on many of its designers and formed the separate Victory Games division. In its heyday, Avalon Hill was king of (oh, let's call it) the non-hall closet gaming world. By the late 90's, however, faced with stiff competition from RPGs and CCGs, the company was barely turning a profit. In 1998, Avalon Hill would dismay the gaming world by selling out to Hasbro.
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9. Board Game: G.I. Joe Adventure Board Game [Average Rating:4.66 Unranked]
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-1960's-

1963: Merrill Hassenfeld deals with the "Flubber Fiasco" which, evidently, still haunts the company parking lot today: http://home.nycap.rr.com/useless/flubber/flubber.html

1964: Hassenfeld Brothers releases the G.I. Joe doll which becomes an immediate success. The designers wanted to sell poseable figures but were afraid that boys would not want to play with a doll - hence the term "action figure" was created. G. I. Joe became the company's second cash cow and the money began flowing in hand-over-fist.

1968: HASsenfeld BROthers changes its name to Hasbro Industries and becomes publicly traded on the American Stock Exchange.
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10. Board Game: Balancing Clown [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
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1969: With the money from G.I. Joe and Mr. Potato Head rolling in, Hasbro makes its first major acquisition by buying Romper Room Inc., the production company of the longest running children's TV show. Romper Room also had a small line of toys. The most important of these was a line based on the punching clown seen on the TV show's set. This was one of those air-filled bop-bag things that springs back up when you hit it. The plastic toys based on it became known as Weebles (they wobble but they don't fall down), ka-ching!
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11. Board Game: Easy Money [Average Rating:4.87 Overall Rank:10689]
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Meanwhile...

In 1963, Kenner products releases the Easy-Bake Oven which becomes a smash hit with young girls everywhere. Kenner Products was founded in 1947 by the brothers Albert, Philip, and Joseph Steiner. Named after its original office location on Kenner Street in Cincinnati, Ohio, the company's first major product was the Bubble-Matic Gun. In addition to the Easy-Bake Oven, Kenner is probably best known for Spirograph, which was released in 1966. One year later, in 1967, Kenner is bought out by that 1960's toy mogul, General Mills.
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12. Board Game: Star Wars: Epic Duels [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:619]
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-1970's-

Not much happened at Hasbro (apart from making lots of money) during this decade. Instead, its web site mentions innovations by companies that it would eventually take over. In 1977 Kenner Toys (i.e. General Mills) releases its line of Star Wars action figures that redefines the genre. Reducing the figure size down to 3 3/4" brought down the price and made it possible for kids to collect entire sets (thus selling more product). Kenner secured the license to the Bat Man movie toys as well.

Also, in 1978, Milton Bradley releases Simon, starting an electronic toy revolution.

1979: Merrill Hassenfeld dies and his son, Stephen, becomes chairman and chief executive officer in 1980. Stephen's brother, Alan, works at expanding the company's international presence.
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13. Board Game: Dungeons & Dragons: The Fantasy Adventure Board Game [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:1687]
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Meanwhile...

In 1973, Tactical Studies Rules releases the white box version of Dungeons and Dragons. Desined by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, it revolutionizes the gaming world creating an entirely new genre, the role-playing game. Tactical Studies Rules (later becoming TSR Inc.) was formed in 1972 by Gygax and Don Kaye in order to publish what was originally called "The Fantasy Game". It was a smash hit, and by the early eighties TSR was a 20 million dollar a year company. Unfortunately, mismanagement and back-stabbing amongst the company owners found TSR 1.5 million dollars in dept by 1984. In 1985 Gary Gygax left the company and Lorraine Williams assumed control. While her short term plans made money, in the long run they ultimately so fractured (and frustrated) the D&D customer base that by 1996 TSR was 20 million dollars in debt and stopped publishing entirely. Finally, in 1997, to the the amazement of the gaming world, TSR sold out to its archrival Wizards of the Coast.
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14. Board Game: My Little Pony Game [Average Rating:4.91 Unranked]
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-1980's-

The Hasbro money machine, buoyed by old favorites and new hits, begins to feast...

1982: G. I. Joe returns to the market in 3 3/4" scale. (Now where did they get that idea from?) The action figure was now supported with an animated TV show and a comic book line.

1983: My Little Pony debuts and becomes a smash hit with girls. Like Joe, it's supported with a TV show, and even a motion picture.
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15. Board Game: Transformers Adventure Game [Average Rating:4.44 Unranked]
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1984: Hasbro releases Transformers (robots in disguise) that becomes another smash hit. Like G. I. Joe and My Little Pony, Transformers ends up with a TV show and a movie.

With the rain of money now becoming a deluge, in 1984, Hasbro sucks up The Milton Bradley Company (which included Playskool) and becomes the biggest toy company in the world.

1985: Hasbro Industries changes its name to Hasbro Inc.

1989: Hasbro acquires the rights to Scrabble. Also in 1989, Alan Hassenfeld takes control of Hasbro after the untimely death of his brother, Stephen. He stills serves as chairman today.
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16. Board Game: Corporate Pursuit [Average Rating:5.89 Unranked]
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Meanwhile...

In 1985, after some corporate restructuring, General Mills spins off Kenner Toys and Parker Brothers. Kenner Parker Toys Inc. immediately becomes the world's forth largest toy company. The company's existence, however, was short lived as it was purchased by the Tonka Corporation in 1987.
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17. Board Game: A Gamut of Games [Average Rating:7.69 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.69 Unranked]
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-1990's-

Now, with so much cash on-hand that only Scrooge McDuck's money bin could hold it all, Hasbro begins eating its competitors alive...

1991: Hasbro buys the Tonka Corporation which increases its portfolio to include: Tonka trucks, Kenner Toys, Parker Brother, Nerf balls, Playskool, Play-Doh, and the licenses for Star Wars and Batman toys.

1992: Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers are merged into the Hasbro Games division.
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18. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:120]
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Meanwhile...

In 1993, Wizards of the Coast debuts Magic: The gathering at Gen Con. WotC was founded in 1990 by Peter Adkison near Seattle, Washington. It originally published only Role-playing games. When mathematician and game designer, Richard Garfield, pitched his board game RoboRally to the company, they asked if he had any designs cheaper to produce. Garfield quickly designed MtG and created an entirely new genre - the collectible card game. MtG was literally a license to print money. But despite its success, the company only had that one top seller (this was before Pokemon). Then, in 1997, it pulled off a major coup by purchasing the (by then) mismanaged and dying TSR Inc. along with all its D&D products. Unfortunately, Wizards soon began to suffer from mismanagement problems of its own and, in 1999, to the stunned disbelief of the gaming community, sold out to Hasbro.
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19. Board Game: Roller Coaster Tycoon [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:3861]
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1995: Hasbro gets into video games with its Hasbro Interactive division. In addition to making video versions of its own brands (like Monopoly), it also creates games such as Rollercoaster tycoon. Things evidently didn't go too smoothly though. In 2000, Hasbro sells its interactive division to Infogrames but keeps its product's licensing agreements (naturally). Also in 1995, Hasbro buys the Larami company, makers of Super Soakers, the world's top selling water toys.

1997: Hasbro eats up the Russ Berrie and Company subsidiaries, Cap Toys, and OddzOn, which nets them Cap Candy and the Koosh brands.
 
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20. Board Game: Furby Adventure Game [Average Rating:3.75 Unranked]
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1998: Hasbro consumes Tiger Electronics (makers of hand-held electronic toys and the Lazer Tag brand), Galoob (which owned Micro Machines), and Avalon Hill (which, beyond a shadow of a doubt, makes Hasbro the number one maker of board games). Its new Tiger Electronics division immediately releases Furby, an animitronic pet that becomes one of those "must have" holiday toys. Over 40 million Furby toys were sold in three years.

1999: Hasbro Inc. switches its listing to the New York Stock Exchange. Later in the year it eats Wizards of the Coast and gets MtG, Pokemon, and D&D.
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21. Board Game: The Incredibles Game [Average Rating:4.35 Unranked]
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-2000's and beyond-

2000: Hasbro teams up with the Walt Disney Company and receives the master toy license for all Disney event films in addition to becoming the official toy company of Disney theme parks.

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So, the suits have eaten the world. After letting out a huge "buuurrrrp", what does the future have for Hasbro? Well, there are German games. After all, several big companies have taken notice of top sellers like The Settlers of Catan. I can envision a conversation like this...

Hasbro: Let's talk about this business of yours.
German game company: We're better than you.
Hasbro: That doesn't matter. What does matter is all the zeros on this check that I'm offering you. Will you sell?
German game company: Ja Doch!!!

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[Note: I cannot vouch for 100% accuracy in this list. Some sources would contradict others. When a conflict arose, I would either go with the most prevalent view or, I confess, the simpler version of a story.]
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