Editor’s Comment: The saying, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, is not complete. The saying should be reworded as follows: “Necessity with a Touch of Genius is the Mother of Invention.” This is best borne out with the following story of the Hoover Family and their role in creating the line of Plakie Toys. I wish to thank Dean Hoover, who is now living in Boardman, Ohio, and Jessica Trickett of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society for their help in making this story possible.
Frank M. (Pete) Hoover died on June 20, 1960 at the age of 63. He was the founder of a two million dollar-a-year toy business here in Youngstown, Ohio. His wife, Dorothy and son, Dean, took over the operations of the company after his death and increased the sales to $4,250,000. After 30 years of supplying children’s nurseries around the world with toys, the Simon Road factory had to shut down in 1992 due to foreign competition. The “Plakie” line of toys was the product of both necessity and a touch of genius of the Hoover Family.
When the First World War started, 20 year old Frank Hoover enlisted in Army Air Corp. After his discharge he sold insurance to pay for two years of college. He found employment as a salesman with Youngstown’s Truscon Division of Republic Steel Corp. He was sent to Detroit, but when the Great Depression came the entire sales staff was dismissed and Mr. Hoover was in need of a job. This is when his genius first came into play. Having friends in the automobile industry, he reasoned that automobile owners would want something better than the factory supplied black knob on the top the floor gear shift. Mr. Hoover returned to Youngstown and began manufacturing ornamental gearshift balls embedded with sterling silver discs suitable for engraving the car owner’s initials. The balls also came in many colors and were sold in major department stores and jewelry stores in the U.S., Canada, and in several foreign nations. Three men were employed at Hoover’s Phelps Street workshop to keep up with the demand and his company flourished until 1935 when the auto industry underwent a major change with the development of the automatic transmission.
In 1932, Frank Hoover and Dorothy Hall were married and three years later Dean Hoover was born just as the gearshift knob was becoming obsolete. With sales decreasing and with new family responsibilities increasing there was again the necessity to come up with a new product to manufacture. Mr. Hoover’s “touch of genius” surfaced again. He had noticed his baby son playing with the colorful thin, square plastic sample chips which Frank had strung on a chain. This inspired Frank to create a child’s toy consisting of a sterling silver chain strung with round molded multi-colored plastic discs. He acquired a patent for his creation and was soon manufacturing toys instead of gear shift knobs. By the early 1940s, the Frank M. Hoover Company saw expansion both in baby products and personnel. In 1943, Mr. Hoover introduced a new toy concept, the “play key” from which the recognizable name, “Plakie” was born.
In 1947 the company was manufacturing both plastic and wooden toys which were advertised “with tested appeal”. Two of the popular items included a plastic telephone rattle, and an extra sturdy wooden Plakie Pounder complete with mallet and six colored pegs. The Plakie Toys, Inc. was expanded with sales offices in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, Miami and San Francisco.
After Frank’s death and for the next 26 years his wife, Dorothy, managed the company. She also had a touch of genius, coming up with new lines of infant toys and sewn coordinated
nursery decorating products. These included crib sheets, bumpers, dust ruffles, canopies, pillows, diaper stackers and wall hangings. The Plakie Humpty Dumpty doll is still being sold on the internet under the name Cumfy Dumfy. Where Frank Hoover’s genius came with the design of plastic and wooden toys, Dorothy’s genius was directed more towards nursery decorations and cloth toys. In 1976, the company’s name was changed to Plakie, Inc. as a reminder to their customers that
the company made more than toys. Thanks to the Hoover family, “Plakie” toys have been entertaining babies and small children for over 60 years.
Young Dean Hoover in a
1940 Plakie Toy Catalog.