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Success with the Game of Life

October 02, 2014

Reuben Klamer, Class of 1944, is a titan of the toy industry, credited with more than 200 creations, including the Game of Life. He returns to Ohio State to meet with students and give back to his alma mater.


98在线福利网When Reuben Klamer talks about collaborating with Art Linkletter to market the hula hoop and feed into a sweeping craze of the 1950s, the celebrity cachet is lost on the 40 business students before him.

98在线福利网But when the students are asked, “Who here has played the Game of Life?” every hand in the room shoots up.

In addition to his timeless board game that has sold more than 50 million copies, Klamer is the creator of more than 200 toys and responsible for introducing one of the most important innovations in that industry: unbreakable plastic.

Klamer, Class of 1944, has been inducted into the Toy Industry Association Hall of Fame and the Hasbro Inventor’s Hall of Fame and holds a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Toy and Game Inventor Expo.

The Canton, Ohio native lives in San Diego now. But he returns to Ohio State frequently to meet with students and soak up the atmosphere of a campus where he studied marketing. 

98在线福利网“It reawakened me when I came back here to campus for the first time. I love to expound on my thoughts in any case where it can help a student think right. It’s wonderful.”

98在线福利网The immense buildup of the university since those days can be overwhelming, Klamer says. But some sites remain the same as they did 70 years ago, including eager students crossing the Oval on their way to class and his distraction-free study nook.

98在线福利网“Orton Hall was my favorite place,” Klamer says. “There were too many pretty girls in the main library!”

Reuben Reuben, joined by his fraternity brothers, moving out of the fraternity house. (seated, front center)

Klamer was in a campus-area restaurant with friends when news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor crackled across the radio. As president of Sigma Alpha Mu, he helped the fraternity move out of their quarters on Iuka Avenue.

98在线福利网“We had a nice house – large, accommodating,” he says. “The Army wanted our house. … So we moved all of our stuff and let them in.”

98在线福利网Meanwhile, Klamer was preparing to enlist in the Navy. To pass the physical, he needed to expand his lung capacity. He ran the steps of Ohio Stadium day after day until he could pass.

98在线福利网After surviving a kamikaze attack and other action in the Pacific theatre, Klamer returned to the U.S. and started a career in marketing with a plastics manufacturer. “They could make anything, but they needed a product for their machines.”

He was wandering through a department store’s toy section one day when he overheard a mother fearfully reprimand her son, “Put that down! It’s plastic!" 

Days later, he watched a television announcer extoll the value of a plastic bottle of shampoo. He threw it on the floor, and it just bounced.

“I need that plastic for that woman!” Klamer recalls thinking. “I want to use that material to make toys that won’t shatter.”

What resulted was the use of polyethylene – or unbreakable plastic – in toys. Klamer helped develop and market the Big Poly line of toys for the company and, as a result, revolutionized generations of children’s playthings.

Identifying a need and creating a solution, Klamer tells the business students, was critical in his career. “Be alert. You don’t have to think about being a particular thing. Just look around you, and (ideas) come naturally.” 

Seeing an advertisement for Milton Bradley Co. crayons, Klamer asked for a meeting with their leadership. He went in to pitch an art center and left with a challenge.

“They wanted a game celebrating their 100th anniversary,” he says. “I told them I can try. That’s my personal slogan: I’ll try.”

98在线福利网On a tour of the company’s archives, inspiration struck. He spotted an 1860 game, The Checkered Game of Life. He seized the word “life” and set to work on building a theme out of that.

Klamer attributes the game’s success over the last 50-plus years to its simplicity.  He says, “It’s a down-to-earth game, and it attracts down-to-earth people." 

At 92, Klamer is still drawing on the power of observation to create, saying it keeps his mind sharp. In his excitement at meeting with students, his advisors have to remind him not to disclose proprietary information on forthcoming products. 

He laughs as he tells the students, “Forget what I just said. I’m not doing a damn thing!”

Returning to inspire business students, Klamer says, is invigorating. He encourages them to reach out to CEOs and others at the pinnacles of their careers because people genuinely want to help a student.

“They’re fresh and new. They’re ready to go,” he says. “There’s something special about students.”

Join the conversation

Reuben Klamer on…

The enduring success of the Game of Life:98在线福利网 “It’s a simple game. It’s popular because it’s familiar. It reminds people about their hopes and dreams.”

Adapting the Game of Life to a video game format:98在线福利网 “We’re coasting along with it and are happy with the results of our video game. It hasn’t hurt the board game at all.”

Favorite spot on campus: “Orton Hall. I used to sneak in there and study quietly.”

Biggest change on campus: “Backpacks! We used to carry our books in our arms.”

Influential professor: “They had a marvelous professor here, Professor Beckman. He was an authority.”

His fondest memory:98在线福利网 “When royalty checks come in.”

His biggest setback:98在线福利网 “Batman – I spent close to a million dollars (making models and prototypes of toys), but the fad was over by the time we were ready to go to production.”

His greatest accomplishment: “I had some beautiful children.”

What he’s learned from children at play:98在线福利网 “To see them engaged and being away from their average life – it’s beautiful to watch them entertain themselves and speak to themselves in play.”