Howard Morrison: A Giant in the Toy Industry

October 29, 2013

 Recipient of the 2013 Toy and Game Inventor Excellence 

(TAGIE) Lifetime Achievement Award

 

“My whole career was about getting ideas and turning them into real things.  

Have hope. Trust yourself. Learn from your failures.  

Live life to the fullest and have a great time!” 

– Howard Morrison, November 2013

 

When you ask what folks remember most about Howard Morrison, they’ll tell you it’s his smile, his sharp wit, and the twinkle in his eye.  They’ll also tell you he was a giant, prolific, creative brain and a tireless champion for everyone he worked with.  He encouraged the creativity of young toy designers, engineers and partners alike.

Up until his retirement from Chicago’s BMT Toys in 1997, Morrison was an alchemist, uncovering potential, turning ideas into real toys that delighted millions of children around the world. 

 MORRISON'S CLASSIC MICKEY MOUSE TELEPHONE

 

He had a knack for finessing rough, early stage concepts and was a team player who always looked for possibilities before problems.

 

A Path to Toys

 

Howard Joel Morrison’s toy story begins in 1932 on the north side of Chicago, where he spent his childhood playing with mechanical and building toys like Erector sets, Tinker Toys and blocks.  He loved to experiment and take toys apart to see how they worked.

 

His parents provided him with a workshop in their basement when he was around 11 or 12 years old, where he spent his free time making models and then building and repairing bicycles, motor scooters, and eventually moving on to motorcycles and cars.

 

When he was about 13 years old, he built his own motorized scooter.  He recalls riding it one day and getting pulled over by the police.  The officer couldn't believe Morrison was only 13 or that he had built the scooter himself.  He hauled Howard down to the jail, arresting him for not having a valid driver’s license.

Morrison was entrepreneurial from the beginning.  As a young boy, he made small wooden toy wheelbarrows to hold building blocks.  He sold these to a children’s shop near his home.

 

He learned how to make dolls, by hand, out of yarn.  His mother would crochet hats and clothes for them and he would sell them out on the street for 25 to 50 cents each.  He would sell out every time.  After a while, Morrison figured out how to improve his manufacturing process by making a crank machine that allowed him to wrap the yarn faster.  Instead of making the dolls one at a time, he could then make them 12 at a time!

 

As a teen, he loved physics and creative subjects in school.  And he loved model-building.

 

A pivotal turning point that began his path in earnest toward the toy industry was a job he got delivering orders for a friend’s liquor store as a teen.  He had a buddy who worked there with him who was going to school to learn electronics and how to repair televisions and radios.  This was a high demand job and an opportunity to make good money.  Morrison was intrigued and decided to do it too.  He obtained his 1st Class FCC license.

 

He attended Lane Technical High School, graduated from Senn High School in Chicago and had a varied college education at University of Illinois, at Navy Pier, Chicago, U. of I. Champaign,  Deforest Trade school for Industrial Electronics, Illinois Institute of Technology for electrical engineering and then three years at University of Wisconsin for Electrical Engineering.  He studied architecture, liberal arts, and electrical engineering.

 

Morrison began his career using those skills working with electronics and high voltage engineering at Underwriters Laboratories, where he tested electrical products for safety.  He then spent eleven years at a small electronics firm that specialized in custom test equipment for industrial applications.

 

He became fascinated with toy invention and, in 1963, became Chief Product Engineer for Strombecker Corporation (owned by TootsieToy) working on electric toy road racing.  After four years, Morrison left for a position with Marvin Glass and Associates (MGA), in 1967.

 

Morrison became an immediate contributor to MGA’s success, and became a partner in the firm in 1969.

 

The Soul of the Place

 

One of Morrison’s early hits with MGA was the Super Sonic Power Racers (SSP) product line for Kenner Toys in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Consisting of ten different, colorful hot rod cars, SSPs captured the imagination of children, producing high speeds with their unique gyro wheel/T-handle pull cord mechanism. They debuted in 1970, and the popular Smash Up Derby play set was introduced in 1971.  The SSP Racers were a Kenner best seller for over a decade.

 

He is also the creator of the classic “Inchworm” ride-on toy by Hasbro Romper Room in the early 1970’s.

 

 

INCHWORM RIDE-ON TOY PATENT DRAWING 1973

 

When tragedy struck the company, not once but twice, in the 1970’s, longtime business partner, Rouben Terzian, says it was Morrison’s ideas that kept the company going financially through those turbulent times.  Company founder, Marvin Glass, passed away suddenly in 1974. Then, in 1976, the company was marred by disaster again, when an employee entered the office with a gun, murdering three employees and injuring two others before taking his own life.  Morrison’s steadfast resolve to keep the team intact and productive sustained the firm as it weathered these catastrophic events.

 

 

BRESLOW MORRISON & TERZIAN

 

MGA remained a key player in the industry until 1988, when its partners disbanded and dissolved the company.  Morrison and two longtime partners joined forces, forming Breslow Morrison & Terzian and Associates (BMT Toys).  BMT remains a toy invention powerhouse today, generating over $250 million in global toy sales annually.  According to one estimate, 70% of all children in the U.S. have played with a toy, game, or doll created by BMT.  Today, BMT is known as Big Monster Toys.

Jeffrey Breslow, the original “B” in BMT Toys, says that Morrison was “the soul of the place, and a father figure who, when he asked, ‘how’s the family?’ he genuinely wanted to know!”

 

Rouben Terzian, the original “T” in BMT Toys, recalls that Morrison’s gift was humor.  “He always incorporated humor into his ideas whether it was a talking plush character, an electronic toy, a game, or other mechanical novelty.”

 “I can say without hesitation that if it hadn't been for some of the products Howard created after Marvin Glass passed away, there would have been no BMT, and there would have been no toy inventing culture in Chicago. We owe a lot to Howard. He was instrumental in the blooming of the Chicago toy invention community.”

– Rouben Terzian, partner at BMT and MGA for combined 33 years

Sean Mullaney and Brian Kujawski worked closely as designer/engineers with Morrison in the early days of BMT.  They recall that he always made sure there was a party going on.