A History of Halsam

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Halsam Products Co. was founded in 1917 by brothers-in-law Harold Elliot and Sam Goss, Jr. Hal married Sam's sister Hazel. Hal was also involved in the Goss family business, the Goss Co. In 19??, Sam Goss, Sr. had invented the high-speed rotary printing press (still used in the majority of newspapers to this day, the company was later sold to Rockwell). Hal Elliot was active in the Goss Co. and sat on their board.

After WWI, Sam approached his father about entering the business. Sam Sr. persuaded his son to find market other than the printing business, which was prone to flucuations and turmoil.

Sam Jr. settled on manufacturing toys and bought a woodworking company in Muskegon, Michigan. The company was already making wood blocks. Halsam relocated a brand new factory at 4114 Ravenswood in northern Chicago fully funded by Sam, Sr.. Sam Goss, Jr. also sought his father's engineering expertise. The first great idea behind Halsam was that manufacturing wood blocks could utilize the same technology as the rotary printing press: raw material (wood) put into one side of a machine and finished goods (blocks) rolling out the other side. Young women would then assemble the loose blocks into sets as they came down the shoot from the machine.

The machine was developed by Sam Sr. and Hal Elliot in conjunction with Bill McCloud. This early move to automation allowed Halsam to quickly dominate the toy block market especially the long established Embossing Company. The original machine was a "cantankerous" behemoth that required much maintenance to keep it running.

In the late 1940s or early 1950s, Nils Paulsen, a Swedish engineer employee by Goss Co. developed two new machines; one for the 1 5/16" blocks (the Halsam "200 line") and one for the 1 3/4" blocks (the Halsam "300 line"). The newer units were much faster and produced better quality blocks with less maintenance. It has been estimated that approximately 30,000 blocks would be inside the machine at any one time at various states of finishing.

Halsam was always on the cutting edge of the toy business. Besides utilizing state-of-the-art automation, they were the first Disney licensee back in 1937 Halsam forged relationships with major department store retailers, TV advertising, unique promotional techniques (Happy Halsam comic) and were early participants in the consolidation into what is now Hasbro.

Halsam was also a founding member of the TMA, Toy Manufacturers of America. In fact, Sam and Hal remained close to the other toymakers; Louie Marx, Herm Fisher, Tootsietoy, Playskool. These men were friends and colleagues more than competitors. This integrity was evidenced in many ways. Halsam was once approached by JC Penny to knock-off the popular Lincoln Logs. Montgomery Wards had the exclusive on the Lincoln Logs and it was phenomenally successful. Halsam refused to copy the logs, but this relationship eventually led to the square Frontier Logs.

Other tales of their management style include Sam Goss' policy about closing the factory early on hot days. Goss would remove his tie and loosen his shirt and walk through the factory, signaling to workers that they could leave for the day. He was known to all as just "Sam."

Halsam maintained a high quality workforce. Derived largely from a German population on the north side of Chicago, their European toy-making heritage and craftsmanship.

The consolidation began in 1955, when Halsam acquired rival blockmakers, the Embossing Co. of Albany, New York. At the time, the company was then owned by Bill Thompson. The Embossing Company had opened the first showroom (#440) in the Toy Building in NYC and Halsam was happy to utilize this marketing tool. The Embossing Co. also specialized in larger dominoes, popular in Texas (for the game of Texas 42).

After acquiring Embossing Co., Halsam moved their factory to 3610 Touhy Ave from the original building at 4114 Ravenswood.. The partners bought nine acres and built on four or five, selling the rest to another company. The new facility had magnificent offices. Kip shared his with Nils Paulsen. Nils did much of the R&D and was responsible for the Skyline sets and probably the Notchies. The Skyline set used Berylium-Copper molds that were unstable. The slot parts did not always fit together well. Bill recalled setting up a display at Marshall Fields where they made a 6 foot tall Empire State building. It was a big hit at Christmas and then they moved it down to the Toy Fair.

They were pioneers into plastic toys with their Elgo (ELliot+Goss) division. Beginning with bakelite dominos and checkers, they improved their products through the use of plastic-injection molding. In 19__, a small Danish company named Lego came to Chicago to meet with Halsam officials. It seemed that Lego also made plastic building bricks and was set to begin marketing in the United States. Because the products and the company names (Elgo and Lego) were so similar, the Danish officials wanted to avoid and unpleasantness. Sam's son, Bill Goss (the first to speak with Lego officials), remembers the Lego executives as upstanding and forthright. Lego paid Halsam a sum of $25,000 to square itself and clear the way for their arrival in America. The rest, they say, is history.

Several of the Goss and Elliot children worked in the family business. Kip Elliot helped launch the American bricks product line. As a child, Kip had spent several years in Britain in the 1940s. Hal Elliot was sent to help reorganize the Goss Co. Kip had discovered England's diverse architectural toys, especially the Mini-Brix block set. The toy was made from rubber and became his favorite toy. Once back in the US and working at Halsam, Kip introduced the American bricks product to the company. It was a natural addition and could be made with the wood checker machines. He was also involved with implementing the new block machines of the early 1950s.

During WWII, Halsam made products for USO and US military. They were thus allowed access to scarce raw materials, like wood and plastics.

Eventually, the arrival of discount chains foreshadowed the sweeping changes ahead for the toy industry. Dixie Bedding of Chicago (their regular sales sagged in the Fall months, so they sold toys then), Bargain Town USA (later to become ToysRus).

In 1962, Playskool purchased Halsam. Playskool was founded by two teachers who approached Manny Fink (who was in the lumber and cattle business). Other "Northsiders" in the Chicago toy community were Tinker Toys (orig. Toy Tinkers).

For the next year Playskool maintained both operations. Gradually, the Halsam production lines were moved into the Playskool factories and most of the Goss/Elliot children were let go. Bill Goss stayed on with the company as VP of Sales and Marketing.

Bill Goss eventually left Playskool and accepted a sales position with Sandberg, a new toy company owned by Bob Roels (another former Halsam employee)

Playskool was bought by Milton Bradley.

EXTRA NOTES

Sam Goss (invented rotary printing press)
Sam Goss Jr. (founded Halsam with Harold Elliot) in charge of production
Sam Goss III
Bill Goss
Sister
Harold Elliot (married Hazel Goss, sat on Goss board) in charge of sales

Arthur Sewell (son-in-law of Sam Goss, Jr. was 2nd husband of Goss' daughter)

Bill Heck
Pat Rooney
E. M. Rooney
Fred Rebe (pres. of Playskool)

Embossing Co. was founded by Hyatt Brothers (Charles, John Wesley, and Isiah). The Hyatt Co. produced blocks from 1860's on. Patent for embossed blocks Oct. 1865.