Smethport Specialty Co. began in 1923 as Marvel Specialty Co., founded by Ralph Herzog and William Kerr in Smethport, PA. Production began in a barn in an alley behind the Grand Central Hotel. Their first product was a magnet set, which included a horseshoe-shaped high carbon steel magnet painted red and silver with several stamped metal figures stitched to a display card. F.W. Woolworth Company picked up the magnet set and it became an excellent seller. Herzog and Kerr began producing more toys to sell to low-priced chain stores.
The company continued through the depression with a few good sellers and expanded production, requiring larger facilities. They moved to a new building in 1931, and in 1932 Ralph Herzog became the sole owner of the company, changing its name to Smethport Specialty Co. Ralph’s sons, Donald and James Herzog, joined the company in the early 1950s.
In 1955, James Herzog made a brilliant discovery—that the dust from magnet grinding could be used for magnetic drawing! He patented the first workable Wooly Willy®. Initially, no toy buyer would purchase Wooly Willy, but eventually a buyer at G.C. Murphy decided to try six dozen in his Indianapolis store. They sold out in a couple days and ordered 12,000 more, selling those in only a few weeks. Wooly Willy became famous and became one of the 40 most popular toys produced during the 1950–1980 period. Over the years, Wooly Willy’s family has grown, sprouting Dapper Dan® the Magnetic Man, Hair-do Harriet™ and more.
In 1965, the company once again outgrew its facility and found its current home on Magnetic Avenue in Smethport, where it continued to grow, acquiring the Lauri® Toy Company in 2003. In 2008, Smethport and Lauri joined the Patch Products family, where all 3 brands thrive together.
Lauri® Toys (originally Lauri Enterprises) began as a dream and became a reality thanks to slipper soles! In 1961, Esther Filbulkin, a Haverhill, MA retired school teacher, wanted to create an innovative teaching aid that would be fun and challenging. She and her husband Herman owned a small shoe shop, and they discovered that the crepe rubber used for the soles of slippers could be die-cut to make small puzzle pieces! Fit-A-Space™ was born and became a huge success, thus starting the fun, new toy company.
In 1968, the company moved to Avon, ME. An abandoned gas station converted into a factory served as Lauri’s first manufacturing facility in Maine. For several years, Lauri mostly made products for schools. Teachers loved the innovative teaching aids, so in 1970 Lauri expanded into the picture puzzle arena. Again, teachers loved the new concept and the puzzles became classics.
In 2003, Lauri was purchased by Smethport Specialty Co. and its entire operations moved to Smethport, PA. Smethport made upgrades to accommodate the necessary materials and machines to continue to produce the classic Lauri toys. In 2008, the Smethport and Lauri brands became a part of the Patch Products family, headquartered in Beloit, WI.