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Dayton is known as the birthplace of aviation and it’s where the cash register, automobile self-starter and pop-top can were invented.
There also was a time 100 years ago when the Miami Valley was home to a major toy industry.
“This area and the state are rich in invention and manufacturing history. The toy industry is a piece that is very little known, a forgotten part of Dayton’s history,” said William C. Gallagher, co-author of the book “The History of Dayton, Ohio Toy Makers.”
Gallagher will give a presentation — “Dayton, Ohio’s Forgotten Industry: The Story of the City’s Role as the ‘Toy Center of the United States’ ” — to increase the awareness of the important role toys played in the manufacturing and entrepreneurial history of the Miami Valley Wednesday, April 16 as part of the Warren County Historical Society’s Lunch and Learn series.
“In this talk, I’ll provide an overview of the many local companies that were in the toy business, identify what they did and show examples of toys,” he said. “It’s quite an entangled story with many partnerships, breakups and lawsuits.”
Gallagher, who has been involved with antique toys as a business owner, researcher and collector for more than 30 years, has authored four other books on antique toys.
After moving to southwest Ohio in 2007, he met Dick Cummings of Oakwood, who convinced him to join in the quest of uncovering the important history of Dayton’s toy makers. Together, they authored the book “The History of Dayton, Ohio Toy Makers.”
“There were about 40 toy makers across the Miami Valley and more than 200 toy patents. Orville Wright even had a toy patent, and his older brother Lorin owned a toy company,” Gallagher said.
In fact, the 1897 local invention of what would become America’s first patent for a wheeled friction toy spawned the once-thriving toy industry in the region.
What happened to this thriving industry?
“The Depression happened,” Gallagher said. “Business began to slow down, and most didn’t make it through the Great Depression.”
Gallagher said the similarity of the toys and lack of manufacturing markings make them difficult to identify by maker. He studied the companies, their products, the inventors and founders by researching historical records, city directories, old toy catalogs, patent information and legal records. The result is a comprehensive, historical guide of Miami Valley toy makers — complete with more than 900 images of product photos and patent illustrations.
“The History of Dayton, Ohio Toy Makers” will be available for purchase at the Lunch and Learn.
For more information about Dayton’s toy history, visit www.daytontoy.com.