The business behind the toy industry was what Ned Strongin, co-inventor of the classic board game Connect Four and others, loved the most.
He was more of a businessman than a toymaker, his son Mike Strongin said. He was a great salesman and a hard worker, daughter Jeanne Strongin added.
“Mike and I are thrilled he designed so many great toys,” Jeanne Strongin said. “But he had an enormous enjoyment for the idea of business, not necessarily just in the toy industry.”
Ned Strongin died at his Corona del Mar home April 9. He was 91.
He also invented Weebles, the little toys that wobble but don’t fall down, among many other games and toys.
He had a very creative side, both his children agreed. He did photography, sign making and silk screening before he got into toys and games.
But the toys weren’t the most important aspect of the job for him. The business side of the industry was what he loved. The deals, the sales, the marketing and the new, innovative ideas, the brass tacks of the business, that’s really what got his Blood pumping.
“He never really defined himself by the toys,” Mike Strongin said. “He was a businessman first.”
Although he was one of the top toy designers and businessmen in the industry, Strongin wasn’t always into playthings.
He was born in New Jersey and lived in New York for much of his life. His father died when he was young and he took over the family candy shop. He never graduated high school and had no other formal education.
“He was a self-made guy,” Mike Strongin said. “He was very street smart.”
He began making signs and posters in the New Jersey and New York area. He soon got into photography, and during World War II served on Gen. Douglas McArthur’s staff as a photographer.
After the war he came home and started his own silk screening business, which became one of the largest in the country, Mike Strongin said.
He met Lynn Pressman of Pressman Toys. She contracted him to make coats for her dolls. He became more and more involved with the industry – he even designed the tail for the Davy Crockett cap.
At that time, most big name toy companies had their own design staff and didn’t hire independent toy designers very often, Mike Strongin said. There were three big independent toy designers, he said, including his father, who owned his own independent toy design company and his own staff.
When Connect 4 was developed he worked with Howard Wexler at their shared business, Strongin and Wexler Corp., Mike Strongin said. They bought the game as a horizontal board game and made some modifications, like rotating it to become a vertical game, one of the aspects which make it so unique.
“Since then, Connect Four has generated a considerable amount of money,” Mike Strongin said.
Ned Strongin was very prolific in the toy and game business throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s – pretty much up until his health began to deteriorate.
Most of the toys and games he developed were collaborations, Jeanne Strongin said.
“He didn’t really say, ‘Eureka! I designed this or that,’ it was more of a collaboration,” she said. “He had an incredible way of motivating people, getting everyone together to share ideas.”
Jeanne Stronglin’s favorite story of him as a father was when she was little, she would wake up in the middle of the night and stand in the kitchen, staring at the ceiling.Her parents asked her why and she said that she always thought it would look beautiful if it were red. She woke up one night, headed to the kitchen and found that her father had painted the ceiling red.
“That’s the kind of dad he was to me,” she said.
Per Ned Stronglin’s wishes, the family held no services. He was buried in New York next to his longtime wife.