Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hasbro: Born and Bred in Providence

One Hasbro Place, Providence RI
One Hasbro Place in LaSalle Square
This morning's walk took me past One Hasbro Place in LaSalle Square in Providence, where 350 marketing and packaging employees of Hasbro set up shop in January. It got me thinking about Hasbro, and its place in the toy industry, and in Providence history.

Today Hasbro is one of the largest "play" companies in the world, second only to Mattel. You may not be familiar with the Hasbro name, but their brands include Transformers, Monopoly, Scrabble, Play-Doh, Nerf, G.I. Joe, Playskool, Fisher Price, Tonka, Milton Bradley, and Parker Brothers.

Hasbro had its origins in a textile remnant business founded by the Hassenfeld Brothers in Providence in 1923. Henry and Hilal were Polish immigrants, and eight family members worked in the business. One of their products was pencil box covers, and they eventually segued into the pencil box making business. When their pencil supplier raised prices, they started making the pencils as well. In the 1940s they expanded into toys, making doctor and nurse kits and modeling clay. In 1952, they introduced Mr. Potato Head--their first big hit.

Can you remember the early Mr. Potato Head? The package included hands, feet, ears, mouths, eyes, noses, hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight felt pieces resembling facial hair; you provided your own potato! This was the first toy ever advertised on TV, and it was advertised directly to children--also a first. Hassenfeld Bros. sold over a million kits the first year! (A plastic potato was added in 1964.)

G.I. Joe represented another story of innovation--the company coined the term "action figure" for their marketing campaign to boys (when what they were selling was essentially dolls in military uniforms).

They had been using the name Hasbro in their marketing during the 1950s, and in 1968 they officially abbreviated the company name to Hasbro Industries; they became Hasbro, Inc. in 1983.

Providence War Memorial
The City of Providence War Memorial in front of Hasbro
The company continued to be run by members of the Hassenfeld family until Alan Hassenfeld resigned from his position as Chairman of the Board in 2008. He still holds a seat on the board, however.

Hasbro Charitable Trust has also been a major donor to various causes, with an emphasis on children. A major gift from the trust was the impetus behind the opening of the Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence in 1994.

Berol Pencils

And whatever happened to the pencil business? That company was spun off as Empire Pencil in 1980, and became part of Sanford (a division of Newell Rubbermaid) in 1992. The pencils are now marketed under the brand name Berol by Papermate.

Two homegrown success stories!!

Hasbro Building, Providence RI

Illustration Credits 

Exterior photos at Hasbro by author.

Photo of Berol pencils from Wikipedia.

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