The Toy Tycoon: The Early Years of Beanie Babies Founder Ty Warner

He dropped out of Kalamazoo College to sell stuffed toys. It might not have been the most promising of starts, but when the young Ty Warner decided to start his own line of stuffed animals, he wound up taking children across the country - and their allowances - by storm. Beanie Babies were affordably priced, and with their cute individual names, Warner found himself sitting on top of a gold mine. H. Ty Warner was born on September 3, 1944 in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. His father, Harold, was a jeweler and toy salesman, while his mother, Georgia, was a pianist. Warner was an average student in school, not getting himself into any trouble, but not standing out academically either. After a few terms at Lyons High School, Warner was transferred to St. John's Military Academy, a private boy's boarding school in Wisconsin. There, he became a skilled athlete, playing baseball, football and basketball.

From St. John's, Warner enrolled in Kalamazoo College in Michigan where he studied drama. But Warner did not last more than one year there, dropping out of college to try his luck as a real actor. He packed up his bags and moved to Hollywood, California, where he pumped gas and sold cameras door to door to pay the bills while he struggled to find acting work.

Eventually, Warner conceded that his future as an actor would not be a bright one. He abandoned the idea of making it big in Hollywood and moved back to Chicago. It was a move that would forever change his life.

Back in Chicago, Warner became involved in the toy industry, first taking up employment with the San Francisco-based toy company, Dakin, where his father also worked. Now in charge of selling plush stuffed animals, this job allowed Warner to begin flexing his muscles as a marketer. With little to lose, Warner began experimenting with different selling techniques. From driving around in a white Rolls-Royce convertible to dressing in fur coats and a top cat and sporting a cane, Warner wanted to peak the curiosities of retailers. "I learned marketing, impulse items - I learned [my] company from Dakin," Warner says of his time there.

In 1980, after 18 years of service at Dakin Warner left the company. Dakin would eventually be forced to close in 1995. But leaving Dakin proved to be one of Warner's best moves yet. He took his newfound free time and packed up for a trip to Sorrento, Italy. It would be the second life-changing trip for Warner who upon arriving in Italy discovered a range of plush stuffed cats for sale, the likes of which he had never seen before in the U.S.

But Warner did not just see stuffed animals. What he saw was a tremendous business opportunity that was up for the taking. He returned home to Chicago in 1983 with a new determination to turn his cute Italian discoveries into a successful American venture.

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