Some Jew of the Week highlights in honour of our recent 5th Birthday!
All Your Favourite Toys!
Having written recently of the world’s largest toy company, Mattel, it would be unfair not to mention the second-largest company, Hasbro. This toy giant was founded as a tiny textile company in 1923 by Polish-Jewish immigrants Henry and Helal Hassenfeld. Over time, they shifted their business towards pencil cases and school supplies, and later to children’s toys. Meanwhile, a fellow Jew (of Romanian descent, born in Brooklyn) named George Lerner invented Mr. Potato Head. In 1952, the Hassenfeld brothers bought the rights to the toy, quickly putting their company on the map. In fact, Mr. Potato Head was the first toy to be advertised on television! But the real big day came in 1964 when the brothers came up with G.I. Joe, thus launching the era of the now-ubiquitous “action figure”. Shortening the company name to Hasbro (a contraction of Hassenfeld Brothers), they continued growing tremendously, creating toys for Star Wars and Sesame Street, and later for Transformers, Batman and Pokemon. Favourites such as Play-Doh, Tonka, My Little Pony, and even Parker Brothers board games like Monopoly, are all created by Hasbro. True to Judaism, the company has become well-known for its charity work, setting up the Hasbro Children’s Foundation and the Hasbro Charitable Trust. They also built and continue to finance the Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, considered one of the top children’s institutions in the world!
Words of the Week
The responsible nuclear Iran. Wait. We’re supposed to believe that a revolutionary Shiite theocracy is overnight going to become a sober, calculating disciple of the realist school of diplomacy … because it has finally acquired weapons of mass destruction? Presumably this would be in the same way that, if German scientists had developed an atomic bomb as quickly as the Manhattan Project, the Second World War would have ended with a negotiated settlement brokered by the League of Nations.
– Niall Ferguson
The Barbie Doll
Ruth Moskowicz (1916-2002) was born in Denver to Jewish-Polish parents that immigrated to America. She married her high school sweetheart Elliot Handler, who pioneered a new type of furniture made from a combination of plexiglass and lucite. Ruth convinced him to start a business, and they combined forces with Harold Matson, creating the popular company Mattel (a combination of Matson and Elliot). Over time, they switched to producing toys, and created a music box that sold an incredible 20 million units by 1952. But the success was only just beginning. Seeing that her daughter Barbara gave adult roles to her baby dolls, Ruth was inspired to create an adult-model doll for kids.
Thus was born Barbie, named after Ruth’s daughter (and later Ken, named after her son). Debuting in 1959, the dolls, and all their accessories, exploded onto the scene internationally. Within a short time, Mattel became the largest toy company in the world, a position it holds to this day. It includes the brands Fisher Price, Hot Wheels and Matchbox, and makes toys for Nintendo and DC (of Batman/Superman fame). Ruth Handler was the brains behind the success, serving as President of Mattel until 1973, when she resigned due to a battle with cancer. Inspired once more, she started a new company called Nearly Me, which helps women who’ve suffered from breast cancer, makes comfortable breast prostheses and post-mastectomy clothing and swimwear. Sadly, Ruth succumbed to colon cancer in 2002.
Words of the Week
…honey is one sixtieth of manna, Shabbat is one sixtieth of the World to Come, sleep is one sixtieth of death, a dream is one sixtieth of prophesy.
– Talmud, Berachot 57b