Having fun with a barrel of monkeys – Loveland Reporter-Herald
Are you looking for a Christmas present for a grandchild or a child for the next year? Given the supply chain and courier issues ($ 85.70 for a small package to Australia), you might want to give this smart article some thought.
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the saying “More fun than a barrel of monkeys”. My research led me to a barrel of monkeys – yes, an endless number of typewriters wrote this column – which is a smart toy. The story of its creation is curious.
Leonard Marks, a greeting card seller, visited a small family shop to sell his line of cards. The store owner was busy, so Len decided to kill time by playing with an open box of snow tire replacement chain links. He amused himself easily. He was having so much fun with the bonds that he didn’t realize how much time had passed. (Time flies when you’re having fun?)
When the owner returned, Len told him the links would make a great toy. Mom and Pop were apparently happy with their lot, so the guy referred Len to Milton Dinhofer (who looks like a toy maker), a successful toy inventor in the area. Milt had cashed in a full-size washable space helmet that made the covers of “The Saturday Evening Post” and “Necklaces” (no need to advertise) in the early 1950s.
Milt also designed and marketed “Sip-n-See,” a mass-produced twisted plastic drinking straw that was entertaining in bars right before it closed (I don’t know, I guess). His straws had different characters and perhaps it was the S-shaped arms of his cowboy straw (hard to imagine) that inspired the ultimate shape of the monkeys arms.
When Len met Milt, he brought a stack of red S-shaped hooks made from a quarter-inch plastic rod. Milt’s imagination saw monkeys having arms positioned similarly to those of his cowboy character. That night, they decided to form a partnership (Monkey Business?). Milt would design the toy and Len would sell it. It took Milt three months to go from a sketch to a working ape. The biggest challenge was the monkey’s balance – not a problem for real monkeys.
Well, plastics were relatively new so finding a mold maker wasn’t easy. The monkeys’ initial race was many colors, but the shape remained true. The prototype was called “Chimp to Chimp” and Woolworth offered to transport it to the line.
However, that deal involved Len and Milt providing 13 weeks of TV advertising – even in the early 1960s, it was too hard on the boys. It turned out that chimpanzees were dumb until Herman Kesler agreed to enter into the partnership.
Herm had contact with Lakeside Toys and set up a meeting with the senior officers. He walked into the meeting and dropped a collar of monkeys on the table. A vice president started putting them together – an appropriate activity for corporate vice presidents – and Lakeside was sold. Meanwhile, the vice president brought up the phrase “more fun than a barrel of money” and the toy got a new name. Lakeside released the “Barrel of Monkeys” in 1965 as Len, Milt and Herm were receiving royalties.
The game has instructions on how to play competitively – no monkeys – and does have some use of scientific modeling.
“Time” magazine ranked “Barrel of Monkeys” at number 53 on its 2011 “All-Time100 Greatest Toys” list. So if you buy any for next Christmas, remember who put you in it.
Jim Willard, a resident of Loveland since 1967, retired from Hewlett-Packard after 33 years to focus on less trivial things. He called his Bichon Frize-Maltese dog Twoey vice president of research for his column.