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The Story of the Electric Toy Company

The Electric Toy Company was established in 1909 in the back of the Winkler Toy Emporium, a small-town Main Street shop. Store Front 1900Harvey Winkler owned it, and although he had built a successful business selling the simple wooden and tin toys that were then popular, his profits had begun to shrink.

The breakthrough came when Winkler overheard the complaints of a young boy who had been brought into the store by his mother. “These dumb old wooden toys are boring,” opined the boy. Winkler was troubled, but his horror deepened as the boy went on to ask for a newer, more exciting, electric train that was available down the street.

At that moment Winkler realized that the electrical revolution that had, in the preceding decades, transformed the lighting, communication, and transportation industries would soon engulf the business of children’s entertainment products. He knew that if he did not innovate his shop would fail, and he resolved to shift his inventory to focus exclusively on electric amusements.

Unfortunately for Winkler, electric toys were unusual and rare in those days. After a long search he found that there was a dearth of quality, inexpensive products with which to stock his shelves. It soon became clear that if he were going to join the electric toy revolution, he would have to lead the charge.

Harvey enlisted his brother Rufus and together they began inventing new toys for the shop. Their first designs were crude and sometimes even dangerous. More than one child emerged from the Emporium with big tears and blackened fingers. But with experience came refinement, and before long the Winkler brothers had developed a line of remarkable gadgets.

Trackless Train (1912)The Self-Blowing Whistle was a popular item from that time, as was the Joy Buzzer and the Sparkling Curli-Q. In 1912, the Trackless Train became a favorite Christmas delight for boys on a budget. Within a few years, shoppers were flooding the old toy store at 5th and Melbourne, which had by then come to be known as The Electric Toy Company.

The 1920s and 30s saw the company expand its production lines and its products, developing electric bicycles, motorized pellet rifles, and the ever-popular ‘Roid Blaster ray guns (which also enjoyed some sales through the pharmaceutical market).

During the first half of the 1940s most of the company’s facilities and personnel served the Allied cause by functioning as a munitions factory. But after the war was won, the company turned back to the development of fine electric toys, going on to create some of their most daring and innovative products.

Rufus Winkler—now in charge of the company following Harvey’s unfortunate and untimely death—managed to acquire, for a bargain price, a fleet of military robots that had been retired following the War. The Electric Toy Company’s scientists and designers set about the task of repurposing these robots for domestic use. Their efforts led initially to the introduction of the RoboTender 1000 Bartending Assistant. Soon after came the debut of the RoboNanny 3000 Babysitting Automaton, and later the more limited and less expensive RoboTickler 9000 Child Amusement Companion, which so many of that generation remember with fondness.

For the next 40 years, the Electric Toy Company continued to produce quality electric toys in keeping with Harvey Winkler’s original vision. In 1975 the company passed to Harvey’s son Albert, who skillfully managed the firm for over 25 years.

Despite these many successes, by the late 1990s the company struggled to remain profitable. America’s children were once again growing impatient with the playthings of the past. Children were tired of toys—not only the dull wooden toys of yesteryear, but even the bright, flashing robotic toys that were then being developed. An exodus away from physical toys into the digital world of the computer was well underway.

In 2006, with the company spiraling toward bankruptcy, Albert handed over the reins to his own son—Harvey’s grandson—McElroy Winkler. Overnight, McElroy set in motion several major adjustments to the company’s operation.

In defiance of common wisdom, McElroy refused to lay off even a single employee. Instead he asked a simple question of every worker: How can we best serve the entertainment needs of the modern child and fun-loving adult?

After several weeks of research and debate, the employees reached a unanimous conclusion. Video games were the answer. Just as electric toys had once triumphed over wooden ones to win the hearts of American children, so had video games eclipsed electric toys in the same entertainment marketplace.

With this answer in hand, McElroy undertook one of the most remarkable company makeovers in the history of American business. He sent every employee back to school. Their mission: Learn to make games. And not just any games: Learn to make the greatest video games the world has ever seen.

Within six weeks, Helen Bixby, whose former job was painting tin cars, had become a world-class texture artist. Bill Fellon, industrial riveter, became a master of 3D animation, specializing in rigging within Autodesk Maya. And Andy Warhole, former time card adjuster, learned object-oriented programming with C++ and wrote his own LISP interpreter. Even Eva, the receptionist, learned HTML and began redesigning the website.

All in all it was a remarkable transformation, and one that immediately began to pay dividends. Earl Hollendash, previously a forklift driver, designed an intriguing puzzle game called Pick Me Up that became an overnight sensation. A few weeks later, Imelda Guevara, with other former members of the plastic fabrication team, created a Half-Life 2 mod—”Splatter!”—that anticipated many of Portal 2’s innovations. And Roger Apestone and Amy Penrose—previously assigned to the drill press—created a thought-provoking, though not especially lucrative, interactive tone poem entitled “Dear Estrogen,” which won the IGDA Special Award for Pretension.

It was an extraordinary year, and this company that had so recently struggled to stay afloat ended up with a modest profit. McElroy Winkler’s dogged commitment to his people had paid off.

Since that time, the Electric Toy company has continued to release innovative and engrossing games designed to challenge and delight both young and old. We believe that far from abandoning the spirit of our founder, Harvey Winkler, we are preserving and expanding it. Every day we ask again what McElroy Winkler asked us those several years ago: “How can we best serve the entertainment needs of the modern child and fun-loving adult?”

Every day we work to find a new answer, along the way creating what we think are some of the greatest interactive entertainment products made anywhere.

So please, enjoy the games of The Electric Toy Company on this site, the Apple App Store, and everywhere fine video games are sold.



The Employees of The Electric Toy Company