W.H. Schaper Mfg. Co. Inc. was quick to embrace innovations in plastics manufacturing to create some of the century’s most recognizable games.
Founded in 1949 in Robbinsdale, Minnesota by William Herbert “Herb” Schaper.
The company was established to support the production of Cootie, a three-dimensional game developed by Schaper.
Schaper was inspired to create the game after adding legs to a wooden fishing lure he created. His game is also thought to be inspired by Bettle, a British pen-and-paper game.
A Year of Firsts
Schaper called on the children in his community to help him test the game an innovative approach at the time.
During the first year of business, staff manually assembled the first 40,000 Cootie games in the basement of Schaper’s home.
Cootie was one of the first games on the market to be moulded from plastic.
Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis was the first to sell the game in 1949. The initial order of two-dozen games quickly sold out. By Christmas that year, the retailer had sold 5,000 units.
Building the Company
Schaper leveraged the success of Cootie to expand the business. The company added six games to its roster by 1951: Tickle Bee, Sparetime Bowling, Scare Crow, Pickins, Skunk, and Stadium Checkers.
In 1952, the company’s first dedicated production facility opened.
That same year, Schaper received a patent for his “separable toy figure.”
Production steadily increased as automation replaced some of the manual processes involved in making the games.
By 1953, Cootie had earned $1.5 million in sales.
In 1961, W.H. Schaper Mfg. Co., Inc. became a publicly traded company.
In 1969, the games called Ants in the Pants and Don’t Break the Ice were warmly received by consumers.
In 1971, Kusan Inc., a Tennessee-based plastics manufacturer, purchased W.H. Schaper Mfg. Co., Inc for $5.4 million in stock.
As a division of Kusan, the company became Schaper Toys and reached $40 million in sales by 1978, expanding to produce over 40 games and toys.
In 1986, Kusan sold Schaper Toys to New Jersey-based Tyco Toys. Tyco Toys then sold the rights to publish Cootie and other games to Hasbro’s Milton Bradley division.
Schaper Toys folded in 1987, but many of the games the company created live on thanks to Hasbro, including Ants in the Pants, Cootie, Don’t Break the Ice, and Don’t Spill the Beans.
A colourful 2,500-pound Cootie float was featured in seven editions of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1975 to 1981. The giant Cootie figure now resides at Shenandoah Caverns in Quicksburg, Virginia.
In 2003, Cootie was recognized by the Toy Industry Association as one of the “most memorable and creative toys of the past century.”