The company began in a loft in New York City in 1903, with a metal-stamping operation run by Julius Chein. The company produced
small tin prizes for the Cracker Jack boxes and other small toys for five and dime stores. Robert Beckleman, the last president
of Chein Industries Inc., says that Julius Chein had a friend with the American Can Company who convinced the toy maker to
lithograph designs on metal instead of painting them. American Can did the litho work for them until 1907, when Chein opened
a plant in Harrison, New Jersey. They manufactured lithographed noisemakers, horse-drawn carts and coin banks which were sold
mainly through the Woolworth chain stores.
Julius Chein was killed in a riding accident in 1926. He fell or was knocked from his horse, in Central Park, although
there are variations on the story of his death. He was known for his violent temper, and was known to fly into a rage over
something that went wrong at the plant. Stories tell that he had even been known to take off his watch, throw it on the floor,
and jump on it when he was angry.
Back to the story of his death, it is rumored that he died of an apoplectic fit when his horse refused to jump. All that
is documented, of course, is that he was riding his horse when he was killed. Chein had a disability that may have attributed
to his bad temperament. He lost one of his arms as a child in a fireworks explosion. He had been fooling around with fireworks,
which went off and blew off his arm (or part of it).
In the early 1940's, the the metal working company retooled to come to the aid of the war effort. Instead of toys, Chein
made munitions: nosecones and tails for bombs, and the casing for incendiary devices. Times following World War II were prosperous
years, but that time also marked the introduction of foreign made toys. The Japanese were exporting the small mechanical toys
inexpensively, which had a tremendous impact on the Chein Company. Chein countered this by making larger mechanical toys that
would be bulky and very costly for the Japanese to send to the United States. This time period led the Chein Company to produce
some of the most collectible of any of the toys it ever manufactured.
Two problems contributed to later difficulties for the Chein Company. In addition to the onset of small foreign toys,
giving the company its first real competition, the company still had strong ties with Woolworth, and nurtured their relationship.
At this time Woolworth was the number one variety store and controlled some of the distribution of toys. It was inconceivable
for them to consider a separation from Woolworth, so all Chein toys were still being sold only through this one outlet. The
other problem was that plastic was available as a cheaper material to make toys, but Mr. Hoffman, refused to turn to plastics.
He didn't believe in the viability of plastic as a material, a shortcoming that greatly contributed to the demise of the company.
From The Chein Company, Toys, Tins and Wastebaskets Author Jeannie Tucker, Tinfax Editor