Old-fashioned games: Small ideas, big successes (1910)

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Fortunes in small things

“The philosophical maxim, “Nothing is small or insignificant,” is strikingly realized in the history of what seem to be petty inventions.

The man who patented the idea of attaching rubber tips to lead pencils realized over $200,000 by his invention. The miner who first attached a metal rivet at each end of the mouth of the trousers pockets, to resist the strain of heavy bits of ore, made more money than if he had found a gold mine; while he who first devised the small metal plates to protect shoe heels realized $250,000 in a few years.

Old fashioned gamesThe glass bells to hang over gas jets, and thus protect the ceiling from smoke, made a large fortune for their inventor; while the inventor of the roller skate made over $1,000,000. The copper tips to shoes made their inventor a millionaire; and the gimlet screw has piled up a dozen fortunes for its proprietors.

Even toys have made their inventors rich, and fortunes have, been realized from the dolls that close their eyes, dolls that cry, balls with return string and puzzles; in fact, any device that sells in great quantities, however insignificant it may seem is certain to bring very large returns to its owner.

It is noticeable, however, that originality is essential to success in all small inventions, especially toys and games. The great inventions of the country, such as the steam engine, steamship, spinning machines and many others, are continually being perfected, until they now bear little resemblance to the first model; but the public does not seem to care for any improvement in small inventions.

>> Also see: Hula hoopers are whooping it up (1958)

Two of the greatest selling toys of the present century were the “Fifteen puzzle” and “Pigs in clover.” They sold by the millions, and were followed by a number of imitations, all very cleverly designed, and some equal in ingenuity to the originals, but they did not sell at all. The public curiosity had evidently exhausted itself and could not be revived.

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There is also a grout deal of chance in the success of these little things, and the ephemeral character of their popularity shows that they have no basis of real merit. In a single year, perhaps inside of six months, the craze runs its course.

“Pigs in clover” puzzle original photo courtesy The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

Farmer playing Fifteen Puzzle

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