Originating in Minnesota, the iconic Cootie Game and Tonka Trucks have been well-loved by children around the world for over 50 years. Lesser known Minnesota-based toy makers of the past include the Judy Toy Company (1937-1968), Sifo Toys (1944-1975), and Cultural Toys (1994), the first African American-owned full-line toy company. Currently, Minnesota is home to over a dozen toy creators, such as BEKA Toys in St. Paul and Lark Toys in Kellogg. Today, the toys made in Minnesota are crafted with the same pride as the original Cootie Game and Tonka Trucks of the last century.
The first Cootie game was hand-carved in 1948 by W. H. “Herb” Schaper, a mail carrier from Minneapolis. Following the success of Cootie, Schaper went on to found the Schaper Toy Company, developing many more popular games, including Ants in Your Pants and Don’t Spill the Beans. In 1986, Schaper Toys was acquired by Milton Bradley. Although they are no longer manufactured in Minnesota, the games created by Schaper remain top-selling toys to this day.
In 1946, Tonka Toys was founded by Lynn Everett Baker, Avery F. Crounse, and Alvin F. Tesch in Mound. Originally made of steel, Tonka Trucks are well known for being indestructible. The most recognizable Tonka Truck is the Mighty Dump Truck. Throughout the years however, Tonka Toys have created a diverse variety of playthings, including the collectible Pound Puppies in 1985. In 1991, Tonka Toys was acquired by Hasbro and Tonka headquarters moved out of Minnesota. The legacy of Tonka Toys endures, and was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2001.
From the early years of plastic bugs and metal trucks to the toys made from sustainable materials of today, toy making in Minnesota has thrived and reflected the ingenuity of the people of Minnesota.