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A Brief History of the

Birth of the Modern American Toy Industry

in Akron, Ohio












ABOVE: Samuel Comely Dyke (1856-1924)

Akronite Samuel C. Dyke ignited the modern toy industry when he automated his factory in 1884. Toy marbles have been around for thousands of years; however, until recently, they were very expensive to produce because they were created by hand: one-marble-at-a-time. Sam Dyke changed all that when he invented machinery to fully mass-produce toy marbles made out of clay, later to become nick-named "commies" by the children who were enthralled by them (because they became so common among all the varieties of marbles to be eventually produced).
A few years after the much neglected Ohio canal system had been returned to the state, in 1884, Samuel C. Dyke opened shop on the grounds of the old lumber yard that had once been Lock 3. His factory turned out the first mass-produced toy, clay marbles, which were manufactured for sale to the Merrill Pottery, one of the largest potteries in the United States at the time (and the business right next door).

This sudden mass-production caused the price of a toy to dramatically plummet -- so much so that, for the first time in history, many children could afford to buy a toy with their own money. (A penny bought a handful of clay marbles.) The success of Dyke's Akron Toy Company spurred other entrepreneurs to start up their own marble works in the Akron area. A few years later, in 1891, Sam Dyke founded The American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company, and it was this factory that became the largest toy company to operate in the United States during the nineteenth century.
With a capitol stock of $100,000.00 and an employment of roughly 350 "hands" (350 people), most of whom were women and children. In addition to making glazed stoneware, the business made earthy miniature replicas of such items as: jugs, pots, boots, shoes, dogs and cats -- which at the time were considered children's toys. The company also produced "china" marbles, made of porcelain, which became the finest shooter marbles available at the time. However, the corporation's primary products were common clay toy marbles, called "commies."

ABOVE: Clay marbles discovered in the Akron area. BELOW: Click on the image below to explore these antique toys now preserved at the museum.

Around the same time, leading members of the rubber industry took notice of this new children's market and soon were turning out the first mass-produced rubber toys, such as: rubber balloons, rubber balls, rubber dollies, rubber duckies and rubber baby buggy bumpers. The children's market also opened up with the mass production of cast iron toys, tin toys, bicycles, other peddle toys, tops, and children's books. Other companies expanded the market into adult play to include sporting goods such as golf balls and fishing tackle.

In total, our research has identified almost 100 toy companies that operated within the greater Akron area since 1884; of that number, roughly 1/3 (three dozen) of them were marble works. These factories made all types and styles of marbles, from mass-produced clay and stone marbles to both hand-made and machine-made glass marbles.

Each day, the employees manufactured one million marbles. One million marbles is enough to fill five railroad box-cars. Five railroad boxcars rolling out of the factory once-a-day, filled with these clay toy marbles, made The American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company the largest toy company to operate in the United States during the nineteenth century.

However, on one unlucky day in 1904, thirteen years after it had been incorporated, The American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company burnt to the ground. This unfortunate event appeared, to some young pilferers, to be a great day for marble collectors: the next morning, every little boy in Akron came down to scavenge and fill his pockets with marbles. This was no play ground, far from being a safe place for such innocent children to be hanging (and looting) about. The police were called in to keep these treasure hunters from unlawfully appropriating the marbles, and soon after, the city ordered the charred remains of the factory to be buried.

There are still toy companies in the Akron area today: Little Tykes, Step Two, Eagle Rubber, Ashland Rubber are just a few of these thriving toy companies. However, Akron's last marble company, The Akro Agate Co., closed its doors in 1951.

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