A guide to the cool toys on Cincinnati's new mural

Carol Motsinger
ArtWorks recently unveiled the newest edition to their Cincinnati Heritage Series,"Cincinnati Toy Heritage," by local artist Jonathan Queen.

More than 40 years ago, you knew you'd arrived at Kenner Products Co. because the toys were already set out to play.

A dramatic, geometric painting adorned the toy company's headquarters Downtown. Bold lines and bright circles depicted a child playing a game of marbles. Next to the Kenner sign, a red hot car raced above the sidewalk on Sycamore Street.

It was a mission statement, a memorial to childhood. And it was likely an inspiration for every Cincinnati mural to come.

That playful, painted celebration is long gone. The Hamilton County Justice Center is there now.

But this summer, Kenner, founded in 1946, returned to Downtown Cincinnati. Just a mere six blocks away from its former headquarters, a new ArtWorks mural again celebrates its creative legacy at 23 West Court St.

Designed by lead artist Jonathan Queen, the whimsical image captures our beloved childhood companions playing, well, together.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man gets a piggyback ride from Batman. C-3PO doodles with the Spirograph. Mr. Potato Head is happy to share a stage with Strawberry Shortcake.

It's a diverse toy box, spanning some five decades. And each, in some way, has a connection to Kenner, has a connection to Cincinnati.

We sat down with Corky Steiner to learn some of the stories behind these familiar faces. Steiner worked for Kenner/Hasbro for 33 years and is the son of one of the founders, Phil Steiner.

The Purple Pieman feeds an Easy Bake Oven creation to the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Steven Spielberg blockbuster, Jurassic Park.

Easy Bake Oven (1963). This is one of the first Kenner blockbuster creations, selling out that first year. In its original design, a 100-watt light bulb baked miniature pies, cakes and cookies in 6 to 16 minutes. Many decades and versions later, the Easy Bake Oven is still in production.

Play-Doh (1965) At first, Play-Doh wasn’t Play-Doh at all. The toy by Rainbow Crafts Company was originally derived from a successful wall cleaner. General Mills bought Rainbow Crafts and, in 1967, Kenner was also sold to the cereal giant. Kenner engineers could now play with Play-Doh. They introduced the idea of molds.

Star Wars character, R2D2, is part of ArtWorks' newest mural called "Toy Heritage." The mural is at 23 West Court Street in Downtown.

Star Wars (1977) In a time not that long ago, Kenner Products was the only company that believed in this guy named George Lucas and the potential of some science fiction script. A number of toy companies passed on Star Wars. But Kenner recognized the opportunity and was awarded the license in 1976. Unlike the other companies, they weren't intimidated by names like Yoda or Darth Vader. And that farsightedness turned out to be the largest selling merchandise property in the history of the toy industry, Steiner said. Artist Jonathan Queen has a bit of fun with the Star Wars diehards. Look closely at who is piloting the X-wing, the star fighter of the good-guy Rebel Alliance. It's none other than Boba Fett, the bounty hunter hired by Darth Vader, you know, the ultimate bad guy.

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake (1980) Before 1980, Strawberry Shortcake existed only as a character for American Greetings, a card company based in Cleveland. Bernie Loomis, a previous head of Kenner, sought a partnership with a greeting card company. And when he went to Cleveland, he found not only Strawberry Shortcake, but also the Care Bears. Both characters not only appeared as wildly popular toys in the 1980s, they also starred in television and film specials.

A morning commute inspired 1985's M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand).

M.A.S.K (1985) A morning commute inspired 1985's M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand). A Kenner engineer spotted a massive truck on the way to the Downtown office from his home in Northern Kentucky, Steiner said. That real-life encounter turned into a line of vehicles that transformed into weapons and other machines. The toy line later inspired an animated television show.

Mr. Potato Head's appearance in the ArtWorks mural is a tribute to The Hassenfeld Family Foundation, created by the Hasbro founding family. The foundation is one of the the sponsors of the ArtWorks mural.

Mr. Potato Head (Hasbro, 1952) The original toy, distributed by Hasbro in 1952, consisted of plastic face parts that children affixed to a real potato. In 1960, the plastic body was introduced and this version remains one of the faces of Hasbro. But why was he invited to this Cincinnati play date? In 1991, Hasbro purchased the Tonka Corporation. And Tonka had previously acquired Kenner. So that's how Kenner Products became a part of the Hasbro brands. Mr. Potato Head's appearance in the ArtWorks mural is also a tribute to The Hassenfeld Family Foundation, created by the Hasbro founding family. The foundation is one of the the sponsors of the ArtWorks mural.

Kenner Products Corporate leadership: Al, Phil and Joe Steiner (1946-1971); Bob Steiner (1947-1971); Dick Kovacevich (1970-1); Bernie Loomis (1971-1984), Joe Mendelsohn (1957-1991); Dave Mauer (1981-1990); Bruce Stein (1987-1994); Ginger Kent (1981-1999); Tom McGrath (1984-2000); Jim Block (1973-1994, 1997-2010); Duncan Billing (1983-1985, 1986-8; 1997 to present).

Also included in the mural:

- Spirograph (1967)

- Sit-N-Spin (1973)

- Care Bears (1983)

- Ghostbusters (1987)

- Batman (1990)

- Nerf (1991)

- Littlest Pet Shop (1992)

- Jurassic Park (1993)