I’m sure everyone has fond memories of playing Mouse Trap as a kid – a game in which the real joy wasn’t in playing, but in constructing and then setting in motion the crazy contraption.
Well, the history of mousetrap might go some way to explaining why that’s the case.
It all started in 1903 with the Ideal Toy Company inventing the Teddy Bear. It was a huge success and, along with their other toys, propelled the company to a valuation of over $11m by the end of World War 2 (that’s about $150m in today’s money).
1962 was a great year for the Ideal Toy Company and featured many big hits such as King Zor, Bop the Beetle and Gaylord the dog. But now it was 1963 and they needed a new hit, so they turned to their favourite toy engineering company, Marvin Glass and Associates – famous for the Yakkity Yack teeth and Mr Machine.
In stepped the child-hating, heavy-drinking toy designer Harvey Kramer. He had an idea for a toy that was based on a Rube Goldberg drawing. He called it Mouse Trap.
Being just ‘a toy’ wasn’t enough though, so Kramer added in some dice rolling to transform Mouse Trap into a board game. Rube Goldberg, well he must have been chuffed to have a toy based on his drawings. Mustn’t he?
Well he might have been, but Marvin Glass and Associates refused to pay him a dime. They said his work was only inspiration and they didn’t need to license his drawings. Poor Rube.
The game was relatively successful but the team wanted more, they felt it needed a little extra. They were no longer a mere toy company remember; they were now a maker of board games. Enter the board game troubleshooter, Sid Sackson, a man who made I’m the Boss and Acquire, and who would go on to win a Spiel de Jahres in 1981 with Focus.
It is said of Sid Sackson that at the time of his death he owned over 18,000 games and was an exceptional dancer… well, before he died that is.
Speaking of death – it would be remiss of me not to mention a sinister subplot of the goings on at Marvin Glass and Associates during this time (I’ll get back to Mouse Trap in a minute):
Marvin Glass was obsessed with security. His office was in the centre of the building away from any windows, with double thick walls to stop any spies or would-be eavesdroppers stealing toy ideas.
Every night, he insisted all prototypes be securely placed in 2 bank-size vaults. He wouldn’t even test his toys with kids, for fear they might share company secrets. Many say this was all for show and PR – that the man loved attention and even had his house featured in Playboy magazine. He died in 1972, but his security paranoia lived on in an unexpected and unfortunate way…
Al Keller was a toy designer at Marvin Glass during Marvin’s reign, and he too was worried. Worried that he was being followed and that people were out to get him. He even told his wife that the new CEO Anson Isaacson wanted him dead.
On July 28th, 1976 Al arrived uncharacteristically late for work. The security guys buzzed him in as usual and he went to his desk. He then proceeded to walk past several colleagues into Mr Isaacson’s office, then shot him and several other executives, before turning the gun on himself.
The police would later find a note he had scrawled to himself that morning “Paranoid. No”.
Well that was cheery wasn’t it?
Back to Sid and his efforts to improve Mouse Trap. He knew that the game needed a little more pizzazz, it needed something different it needed… CHEESE. And thus, the final part of the game we all know and love was added: plastic cheese.
Mouse Trap has since had several redesigns after a gluttony of mergers and acquisitions between Ideal Toys, MB, Tyco, Mattel and Hasbro (though we all know the original was best).
It’s even had a complete overhaul recently to become part of the “Elefun and friends” range. I thought Elephants hated mice?
So there you have it, the history of Mouse Trap. A Rube Goldberg rip off that lived through paranoia, Playboy, murder – and now an elephant – but which will forever stay in our minds as the game in which you turn the crank, then kick the plastic boot, sending a ball tumbling into the scaffolding, making the diver leap into the bucket and drop the trap on an innocent mouse.