1955:  James Reese Herzog Invents the world famous Wooly Willy Magnetic Toy

click HERE for the 9/24/2009 American Profile story on Wooly Willy Inventor Jim Herzog

James Reese Herzog,
Inventor of the world famous Wooly Willy magnetic toy,
Smethport Specialty Factory 1931-1965
304 N. Fulton St.  Smethport, Pennsylvania
1955 Birthplace of Smethport's famous Wooly Willy Toy ;
originally constructed as the Boys' Magazine Print Shop 1912-1920

picture reconstruction:  Greg Pierotti
Originally constructed as the print shop forSmethport resident Scott Refield’s nationallydistributed BOY’S MAGAZINE,
published in Smethport from 1910-1921 the building was constructed during 1912 with clay tile manufactured in nearby Clermont, PA.
At its peak in 1916, the BOY’S MAGAZINE shipped over 200,000 issues each month, putting the name of Smethportacross the country and internationally.

Evolution of Smethport Toy Industry: 1908-Present

Electric Toy Works

Marvel Toy Company
Birth of Wooly Willy
Marvel Toy Co. becomes Smethport Specialty
Smethport Specialty Grows

Wooly Willy's 50th Birthday

Added to Smethport Historic Registry in 2008
History of Boy's Magazine 1910-1920

See 2005

1955:  James Reese Herzog Invents the world famous Wooly Willy Magnetic Toy

The depression hit the toy business in 1929 and lasted for nearly a decade but the Magnet Set and Flicker Top remained good sellers.  Expanding production required larger facilities.  In 1931, a building at 304 Fulton Street that had formerly housed the Boy's Own Magazine successor to Scott Redfiled's The Boys' Magazine was purchased.  In 1932 Ralph Herzog  became the sole owner and changed the name to Smethport Specialty Co.  William Kerr briefly manufactured toys at the Backus Company and Lyceum Theater before starting an Oldsmobile auto agency at the east end of Water Street.

With the event of World War II all toy production ceased as materials were available for war use only.  Smethport Specialty became R. W. Herzog, a subcontractor for Sylvania Co., Emporium PA, supplying mica insulators for radio tubes used in proximity fuses.  This device controlled the height at which a bomb would explode.  The fuse was considered as one of the war's three most important weapons due to the devastation it could cause.   Millions of insulators were produced on two shifts operating 48 hours per week.  Eighty to 120 local women were employed for this important war effort.

After the war, mica insulator production continued but for civilian use and as material became available limited toy production returned.  Eventually transisitors replaced radio tubes and insulator producting ceased in the mid 50's.

Donald and James Herzog joined the firm in the early 50's mainly working on Smethport Specialty's toy business.  The Flicker Top was again produced and magnet production was expanded.  In 1955 James Herzog found that dust from the magnet grinding could be used for magnetic drawing and patented the first workable Wooly Willy Magnetic Drawing set.  About the same time the United States Army needed a three dimensional map which was produced by vacuum forming heated plastic.  Donald Herzog suggested this process could be used to form a clear plastic to contain the magnetic drawing powder.  Leonard Mackowski, a very talented Bradford artist, designed the display card.  He often hid his name in the art and you will still find it on the back of the original set that has been delighting youngsters for more than 45 years.

Initially no toy buyer would purchase Wooly Willy as most thought it a very poor toy concept.   Eventually a very cautious buyer at G. C. Murphy chain, McKeesport, PA, said he would try six dozen in his Indianapolis store mainly to prove that it wouldn't sell.  Fortunately he was wrong.  The first six dozen sold in a couple of days.  His next order for that store was for 12,000 sets sold out in a few weeks.  Suddenly Wooly Willy, the toy no buyer wanted, became the toy that all wanted.  Wooly Willy went on to become one of the 40 most popular toys produced during the 1950 to 1980 period.  It was frequently copied around the world.  One set made in Japan even had "Made in Smethport, Japan."  Fortunately the copiers were never willing or able to make the engineering effort to duplicate Willy's quality featurers----special magnetite powder, a sturdy anti-static plastic dome, thick display card and a strong drawing magnet.

The cost of the original Wooly Willy was 29 cents.  A larger version, Dapper Dan The Magnetic Man, sold for $1.  Thousands of complimentary letters were received about the Magnetic Drawing Sets.  One mother wrote "My young son had been in the hospital for three months without a single smile, until he received Dapper Dan."  Another said "I'm amazed--a 29 cent toy that lasted for six weeks with the constant play of my six children."  TV frequently featured the sets in children's scenes and a comedian spent a half hour making jokes about the faces it could create.  Seldom has such an inexpensive toy produced so much entertainment over so many years.  Some bald politicians even asked for  promotional sets.  Hollywood once requested a large order with special pictures of a leading male and female performer only to destory the entire production run as the actress felt it diminished her image.

Demand for Magnetic Drawing sets expanded to include colored magnetic hair and with the addition of many other toys a new manufacturing facility was required.  In 1965, the firm moved to Magnetic Avenue on Route 59, west of Smethport, were it continues today.


photo credit: James R. Herzog collection

photo credit: James R. Herzog collection

photo credit: James R. Herzog collection

Detail of back of "Wooly Willy" showing instructions as to how to use the toy.


photo credit: James R. Herzog collection

Detail of Leonard Mackowski artwork on back side of the Wooly Willy toy

photo credit: James R. Herzog collection

If you look closely in the middle of the picture, to the right of the mushroom you will see the Leonard Mackowski's name.  He was the talented artist from Bradford who designed the display card for the Wooly Willy.  The name has been on every Wooly Willy ever produced since its beginning 45 years ago.

photo credit: James R. Herzog collection


Mary Pierotti, Smethport Historic Registry Chair, makes presenation of the historic registry plaque while Rob Daggett, James R. Herzog, and Menford and Maxine Tenglund.

Building, once home to Wooly Willy, added to Smethport Historic Registry
Bradford Era March 8, 2008

304 Fulton St., a building originally constructed as the print shop for Boy’s Magazine and later the birthplace of famous magnetic toy “Wooly Willy,” is now on the Smethport Historic Registry.

A brief ceremony commemorating the 30th property to be placed on the registry was held Thursday afternoon at the building, which is located behind Olson & Tenglund Auto Parts.

Mayor Ross Porter, also a local historian, provided some background on the building that was constructed as the print shop for Boy’s Magazine, published from 1910 to 1920.

“This building, constructed with clay tiles from nearby Clermont, represents a major part of Smethport in a number or ways,” said Porter, as he noted the entrepreneurial contributions of Scott Redfield, Ralph Herzog and Menford Tenglund.

Attending the ceremony were Herzog’s son, Jim; Tenglund and his wife, Maxine; and Rob Daggett, who, along with his partner, Scott Cavagnaro, purchased Smethport Specialty in 1993.

Redfield published Boy’s Magazine, which pre-dated Boy’s Life, a publication of the Boy Scouts of America and included stories of interest to boys and scouts. Holding up the June 1914 issue, one of three original copies of Boy’s Magazine that were on display, Porter noted that the cover boasted 100,000-plus circulation.

“During the height of its popularity in 1916, 200,000 monthly copies were shipped to readers, making Smethport one of the major post offices in Pennsylvania,” Porter said.

From 1931 to 1965, the building was the office and factory of Smethport Specialty. Herzog became sole owner of the company in 1932.
His son, Jim, who still resides in Smethport, invented “Wooly Willy” in 1955. According to an historic account, he noticed “that dust from magnetic grinding could be used for magnetic drawing and patented the first workable “Wooly Willy’ Magnetic Drawing Set.”

The toy proved to be so successful that it earned honors as the top toy nationally during 1955 and one of the 40 most popular toys during 1950 to 1980.

The Herzog family moved the business from Fulton Street to its present location on Magnetic Avenue, west of Smethport, in 1965.

The Tenglunds now own the building.

Porter said, “Mr. Tenglund began his career in the auto parts business in 1946 and is an entrepreneurial leader in the region.” Then, speaking to Tenglund and his wife, Porter said, “We are honored to have you as owners of the building.”

The proceedings then moved outside. Mary Pierotti, chairman of the SHR, presented a cast plaque to Menford Tenglund that reads, “Smethport Historic Registry Circa 1912.” It will be attached to the buildings exterior.

Pierotti also presented presented framed copies of the buildings history to Maxine Tunglund and Jim Herzog.
DOWNLOAD the plaque awarded to this property!

2005: Birthplace of Wooly Willy

photo credit: Kayla Lincoln

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