The Chein Company
The company began in a loft in New York City in 1903, with a metal-stamping operation run by Julius Chein. The company produced small tin prizes for the Cracker Jack boxes and other small toys for five and dime stores. Although the Chein Company made the advertising tins that we collect in its later years, its reputation is built on the nostalgic tin toys and tin banks that are so collectible.
Robert Beckleman, the last president of Chein Industries Inc., says that Julius Chein had a friend with the American Can Company who convinced the toy maker to lithograph designs on metal instead of painting them. American Can did the litho work for them until 1907, when Chein opened a plant in Harrison, New Jersey. They manufactured lithographed noisemakers, horse-drawn carts and coin banks which were sold mainly through the Woolworth chain stores.
Julius Chein was killed in a riding accident in 1926. He fell or was knocked from his horse, in Central Park, although there are variations on the story of his death. He was known for his violent temper, and was known to fly into a rage over something that went wrong at the plant. Stories tell that he had even been known to take off his watch, throw it on the floor, and jump on it when he was angry.
Back to the story of his death, it is rumored that he died of an apoplectic fit when his horse refused to jump. All that is documented, of course, is that he was riding his horse when he was killed. Chein had a disability that may have attributed to his bad temperament. He lost one of his arms as a child in a fireworks explosion. He had been fooling around with fireworks, which went off and blew off his arm (or part of it).
Mrs. Chein inherited the toy making company after her husband's death and turned the reins over to her brother, Samuel Hoffman. Mr. Hoffman had worked for Chein earlier when he was younger, but had left the Chein Company to start his own competing toy company, Mohawk Toys. The Chein Company flourished for decades under his direction producing some of its most popular toys. Mr. Hoffman was a significant step in building the company in the early years.
In the early 1940's, the the metal working company retooled to come to the aid of the war effort. Instead of toys, Chein made munitions: nosecones and tails for bombs, and the casing for incendiary devices. Times following World War II were prosperous years, but that time also marked the introduction of foreign made toys. The Japanese were exporting the small mechanical toys inexpensively, which had a tremendous impact on the Chein Company. Chein countered this by making larger mechanical toys that would be bulky and very costly for the Japanese to send to the United States. This time period led the Chein Company to produce some of the most collectible of any of the toys it ever manufactured. The Ferris wheel, which Chein had been producing since the 1930's, was refined, the company's first roller coaster was manufactured in 1949, the Playland Merry-Go-Round in 1950, the Space Ride and larger Rocket Ride came along in the early 1950's.
In 1949, the Chein Company left its 50,000 square foot facility in Harrison and built a new shop in Burlington, New Jersey - a more economical one floor plant of 75,000 square ft. Most of the front-line supervision, most of the toy and dye-makers, lithographers, and the very key manufacturing personnel made the move to Burlington. In peak seasons, Chein employed 600 people at the new factory.
Two problems contributed to later difficulties for the Chein Company. In addition to the onset of small foreign toys, giving the company its first real competition, the company still had strong ties with Woolworth, and nurtured their relationship. At this time Woolworth was the number one variety store and controlled some of the distribution of toys. It was inconceivable for them to consider a separation from Woolworth, so all Chein toys were still being sold only through this one outlet. The other problem was that plastic was available as a cheaper material to make toys, but Mr. Hoffman, still in control of the Chein Company, refused to turn to plastics. He didn't believe in the viability of plastic as a material, a shortcoming that greatly contributed to the demise of the company.
*Chein Hercules Ferris Wheel Windup
- Date: 1930s
- Size: 16" tall
- Auction: Hakes, May 2007
- Price: $287. 30