Fifty years ago tomorrow, one of Youngstown’s most famous newswoman, Esther Hamilton, wrote about one of the leading businesswomen in Youngstown, Mrs. Frank (Dorothy) M. Hoover, president of Plakie Toy. She and her son Dean, who was vice president, led a company of 175 employees with $1 million in sales. At peak, this grew to over $4 million in sales. Hamilton notes that many of her employees were women as well.
Dorothy Hoover is portrayed as a religious woman with a Bible on her desk, the host of a non-sectarian devotional service at 7:45 am, and a traveler to the Holy Land and committed church member. Her religious values translated into a strong emphasis on the manufacturing of safe toys tested in the homes of her employees before they hit the market.
Her husband Frank sold insurance before working in sales at Truscon working with the automotive industry in Detroit. This led to launching a business selling custom gear shift knobs until the automatic transmission made them obsolete around 1935. The idea for a new business, initially Frank M. Hoover, Inc. came from observing his son Dean play with plastic sample chips. His first toy was a set of multi-colored disks strung on a silver chain. He patented the toy, and by 1943 changed the name of his company to Plakie (a form of “play key”). The business grew rapidly from an initial investment of $1400.
During World War 2, he converted to making wood toys, including a work bench with pegs and a mallet, pull toys, and toy trains. As plastic once again became available, the company began manufacturing plastic toys including rattles and ducklings. The emphasis of the company was “Play Safe.” Hoover believed a good toy combined color, sound, and motion.
For a time in the 1950’s, Plakie teamed up with local inventor John Garver to produce the Christmas Tree Twinkler. After receiving a box of them from friends who knew our Youngstown connection, I wrote about them here. All Frank Hoover’s expertise in plastics went into this one!
The enterprise was a family business from the start, with Dorothy as a working director. In 1952, the company built a building at 4105 Simon Rd. for $200,000. It was designed for expansion. The Hoover’s foresight, and involvement together meant a seamless transition and continued growth when Frank died in 1960. Over time, Dorothy transitioned the company to manufacturing more nursery decorations and cloth toys including wall hangings, crib sheets, bumpers, dust ruffles and canopies as well as soft toys, musical toys, and crib gyms. One of the most popular soft toys was the Humpty Dumpty, examples of which can be found for sale on the internet. In 1976, the company name was changed to Plakie, Inc. to reflect that they were about more than toys.
Increased competition in a global market and production costs led to the company ceasing operations in 1992. But the safe and durable toys this company manufactured have lasted. For over fifty years the Hoover family gave Youngstown its own “toy story.”
“Discover the History of Youngstown’s Plakie Toys.” The Daily Buzz, Youngstown Business Journal, 11-04-20.
Esther Hamilton, “Mrs Hoover Keeps Staff of 175 Busy Putting Out Safe Plakie Toys” The Vindicator, June 27, 1971.
Ted Heineman, “The Hoover Family” Riverside Cemetery Journal.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!