This Kohner Brothers Company history was written for me by Frank
Kohner , one of the two founding Kohner brothers. Also, many thanks to Steve
Kohner, son of the other founding brother, Paul Kohner, for introducing me to
Mr. Kohner and for editing this history.
Kohner Wood Toys, which were made between 1946 and about 1956
distinctive natural looking satin stained finish. There is a historical
reason for this that goes back to the 1870s.
Kohner Bros. traces its origins to a small town in the then
Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, TACHAU, where Moritz Kohner founded a small
factory that made wood-turned bases for curtain handles and sword
decorations. These bases were subsequently spun over with silk in Germany and
were in fashion until about 1900.
As a teenager, Moritz Kohner in 1851 was lured by the
tales of the gold rush in America and he traveled all the way to California to
dig for gold. He did not find any riches in California and went back home a year
later. There he found gold of a different kind. In those days there were an
abundance of maple, birch and beech trees growing in the
Tachau region and many poor peasants, as a means of additional income,
learned to turn wooden parts on primitive foot operated lathes. Moritz Kohner
was one of the pioneers who made Tachau known as a center of wooden products.
In 1874 Moritz founded the original company that was eventually to become
Kohner Bros. Inc. in America many years later. Several manufacturers, with
the help of a skilled labor force developed a special, inexpensive barrel
finish that gave the finished products a rich-looking appearance. This
involved tumbling the beads in large wooden drums in a multi-step smoothing,
coloring and finishing process. The finish lent itself well for beads,
buttons, components for toys and games, beaded handbags, Mohammedan Rosaries,
etc. Gradually, automatic lathes were developed that allowed mass production
of their products.
In 1890 Moritz’s sons Emil and Max joined the business and it
then became known as M. Kohner & Sons. Moritz Kohner died in 1900 and his
son Emil took over running the business. During World War I, Emil had to
join the Austrian-Hungarian army but after the war the Tachau wood industry
revived quickly. After the war the town of Tachau became part of the newly
founded nation of Czechoslovakia. Emil and his wife Rosa had a son Paul
was born in 1900 and a son Frank who was born in 1910. Eventually, after
their education, both brothers joined and gradually took over management of
first toys were simple string bead toys but by 1946-47 they had designed a few
pull toys featuring a swinging clown. The clown image appeared on their company literature
from these years on. Their best selling wooden pull toy by far was Tricycle Tom.
Tom featured the famous Kohner Brothers beads for legs and arms.
Push Button Puppets
Fortune smiled on the brothers when they obtained the rights from the Swiss
inventor, Marty Meinard, to produce the line of toys to be called Push Button Puppets. The first
ones were produced around 1947. Fisher Price and as many as 28 other toy makers
tried to copy their designs which the brothers tried to stop, and did stop some,
by many court actions. However, many knock-offs were produced. Some
manufacturers called theirs Push Up Puppets, perhaps in an attempt to
demonstrate that their toys were somehow different from Kohner's. Sales for puppets rose to $50,000 in the 1950s. Over 400 workers at the Kohner
factories worked hard to satisfy demand.
At the same time, Swedish Toy Company, began making
Push Button Puppets under Marty Meinard's patent.
The photo at the left is a great Kohner Howdy Doody Push Button
puppet from Steve Kohner's collection. This toy is especially desirable since it
still has its original box. This toy is also interesting since it is a
transition piece produced between 1956 and 1960. Its base and head are plastic
while all other components are wood.
Push Button Puppets are still being manufactured by many
companies throughout the world. A myriad of different animals and characters
have served as puppets. A good site to see photos and histories of many Push
by Kohner and others is Jane Coakeley's at www.pushpuppets.com.
After World War II more and more toys were being made in plastic
the Injection Molding Process, ultimately driving wooden toys off the market.
The same product could be made for less than half the cost in plastic than in
wood. Kohner Bros. had to make the switch to plastic eventually. This led to
new and innovative items; however, the costs of the production equipment
required was substantial. To raise the money they contracted with a salesman
to sell the huge inventory of beads they had accumulated over the
years. The salesman was able to dispose of these fine quality beads over a
two year period and the brothers had their funds for purchasing the plastic
Their greatest success was the “Busy Box” (10 activities for
infants) and the still popular game of “Trouble”.
The Later Years
Kohner Bros. Inc. was sold to General Foods in 1969 who resold
it a few years later. Kohner Bros. does not exist anymore, but several of their
products are still
on the market under manufacture by other companies. Paul Kohner died in 1965.
Steve Kohner has informed us that Frank Kohner passed away on February 6th, 2011
at the age of 100. Although we are sad to hear of his passing, we are happy that
Frank Kohner lived such a long and productive life.