One of the most oft-cited books on toy history is getting a sequel that’s also a prequel.
More than 20 years after its initial publication, G. Wayne Miller’s Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies That Make Them remains a toy industry must-read, focusing on the East Coast / West Coast rivalry between Hasbro and Mattel. On Sept. 24, Stillwater River Publications will release Miller’s follow-up, Kid Number One: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Business, featuring Alan Hassenfeld and Hasbro.
The focus on former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld delves into toy and game industry history, entertainment, and politics. Beyond a look at classic Hasbro brands, such as Transformers, NERF, Monopoly, Magic: The Gathering, My Little Pony, and Star Wars, the book also discusses brands from Mattel and many additional toymakers, many of which are long since closed.
Kid Number One Synopsis:
Kid Number One opens in 1903, when Alan Hassenfeld’s grandfather and great-uncle arrived in America as penniless teenage immigrants escaping religious persecution – refugees who went from hawking rags on the streets of New York City to building what became the world’s largest toy company, Hasbro, whose world headquarters is in Pawtucket.
Henry Hassenfeld, Alan’s grandfather, and Hillel Hassenfeld, Alan’s great-uncle, found their way to Rhode Island and by 1917 had founded Has(senfeld) bro(thers) on North Main Street in Providence. The company grew, becoming a national force when Henry’s son Merrill, Alan’s father, brought Mr. Potato Head and G.I. Joe to market. Merrill’s other son, Stephen, made Hasbro a Fortune 500 company and Hollywood player. Brother Alan was the free spirit who wanted to write novels, date beautiful women and travel the world. He never wanted to run Hasbro, and no one ever believed he would – or could.
And then Stephen died, tragically of AIDS. “Kid Number One,” as Alan liked to call himself, was suddenly chairman and CEO. Silencing the skeptics, he took the company to greater heights – and then almost killed it with a series of bad decisions including Hasbro’s acquisition of rights to Pokémon. Putting ego aside, Hassenfeld gave his long-time lieutenant Al Verrecchia command and set in motion a plan whereby he would leave the corner office. Verrecchia saved the company, and after renewed success, he himself retired, leaving Hasbro in the hands of current CEO and chairman Brian Goldner, so highly regarded that he was brought onto the board of CBS.
With his fortune, Hassenfeld could have sailed into the sunset on a yacht, but instead, he went to work expanding the long family tradition of Tikkun Olam — “repairing the world” — begun by his grandfather and great-uncle, who, grateful to have survived, tirelessly helped immigrants and needy citizens of their new country. Alan Hassenfeld’s philanthropy has helped build two children’s hospitals, establish numerous educational and health programs, train young doctors and scientists, resettle refugees, promote peace in the Mideast and more. For decades, he also has been a highly visible advocate for national political and ethics reform, despite personal threats and the scorn of crooked politicians.
Miller, a staff writer at the Providence Journal, recently narrated the first chapter of his book in an episode of the Journal‘s podcast.