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Halsam Products Co.

Halsam Products Co. was founded in 1917 by brothers-in-law Harold Elliot and Sam Goss, Jr. ("Hal+Sam"). Hal married Sam's sister Hazel and was also involved in another Goss family business, the Goss Printing Press Company (estab. 1885). Brothers Fred & Sam Goss Sr. had invented the rotary printing press. Son-in-law Hal sat on their board and later managed their business overseas.

 

Halsam1927Ad.jpg (124292 bytes)

After WWI, Sam Jr. approached his father about entering the printing business. Sam Sr. persuaded his son to find a market other than the printing business, which was cyclical and unpredictable. Sam Jr. decided on manufacturing wood toys, and together with Hal bought a woodworking company that was already making wood blocks.

A Halsam ad from 1927. 
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  HalsamBlocksColorAD.jpg (172091 bytes) HalsamBlocksColorAD1930.jpg (131491 bytes)

A Halsam ad from 1932. 
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A Halsam ad from 1934
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A Halsam ad from "Billy and Ruth" catalog ca 1930.
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They built a brand-new, 20,000 sq. ft. factory at 1417 Ravenswood in northern Chicago. Goss and Elliott made special block embossing machines and domino machines. The machines utilized the same technology as the rotary printing press -- raw material (wood) put into one side of a machine and finished goods rolling out the other. This early use automation allowed Halsam to quickly dominate the block and domino markets, stealing substantial market share from their only real competitor, the Embossing Company of Albany, New York -- the originator of embossed ABC blocks.
   
Engineering and automation played a major role throughout the history of Halsam. Machines developed for dominoes were used for a unique product called American Bricks (later made out of plastic). (Applying the word "American" boosted Halsam's sales and their "Frontier Logs" were very popular in the South where the name "Lincoln Logs" hurt their competitor's sales.)
Halsam produced point-of-sale displays for their American Logs sets such as this sample. These were factory made - nailed together.
   
 Halsam was an innovator and industry leader in many other ways. Halsam was also a founding member of the industry group, Toy Manufacturers of America. They were one of the first toy companies to license Disney characters in the late 1920's. Halsam marketed their ABC sets of "safety blocks" with mechanically-rounded corners. They also developed "Hi-Lo blocks" with interlocking grooved sides. Halsam was one of the first to use TV advertisements. They also worked closely with large department stores and later with pre-Toys-R-Us, deep-discount outlets such as Bargain Town USA.
 

 

 
 Halsam was a pioneer into manufacturing plastic toys with their Elgo (ELliot+GOss) division. Beginning with bakelite dominoes and checkers, they improved their products through the use of plastic-injection molding. A small Danish company named Lego came to Chicago to meet with Halsam officials. 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 any 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 approximately $25,000 to square itself and clear the way for Lego's arrival in America. The rest, they say, is history.
 

 

 
 Halsam acquired toys from other companies, including the Changeable Charlie face puzzle toy from Gaston Manufacturing Co. In 1955, they acquired toys such as Color Cubes through the purchase of their largest rival, the Embossing Co. In 1962, Halsam was purchased by Playskool. In rapid succession, Playskool was purchased by the Milton Bradley Co. of Springfield, MA, which was itself later sold to Hasbro, Inc. of Rhode Island.

 

By the early 1970's, Playskool had eliminated the Hi-Lo blocks, Changeable Charlie, Play Tiles, Color Cubes, and other classic Halsam Toys which sold less and less in the quickly changing toy business. Today, only a few long-time toy reps and manufacturers still remember the Halsam name. Yet millions of adults fondly recall the toys themselves, and the countless hours fun they had with them.

Copyright 2002 Scott Bultman, owner Uncle Goose Toys (www.unclegoose.com). All rights reserved. No other use of this history is permitted without expressed written permission from the author.