The Man Behind the Bug: The Inventor of the Game of Cootie

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Image from HHM Collections

Hennepin History Museum has three sets of The Game of Cootie in its collection. Given Cootie’s iconic status and the fact that it has been continuously sold for seventy years, it is surprising that we don’t have more. With missing parts and disintegrating boxes, these games were obviously adored and frequently played with. Most people are aware that the game was created in Hennepin County, but the story of the inventor behind it is less well known. 

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Image from HHM Archives

William Herbert Schaper of Robbinsdale enjoyed fishing and hand carving his own lures. He began selling his wooden bugs to children out of the store he ran. By 1948, Schaper realized the potential of his creations. Adapting the rules of an existing game to his unique insect creations, Schaper invented The Game of Cootie. In 1949, he founded the W.H. Schaper Mfg. Co., Inc. (later named Schaper Toys) to manufacture and distribute Cootie. Initially, Schaper hand-carved each game himself. Then, in an innovative move he started manufacturing his games in plastic at a time when plastic toys were just emerging in the market. Schaper first sold his product at Dayton’s on consignment. HIs first shipment flew off the shelves. By 1952, more than 1.2 million games were sold. By the sixties, Schaper’s company created and sold an entire line of games. For a time Schaper toys was one of the largest toy manufacturers in the nation. Like with toys, Schaper also took an innovative approach to marketing. He was one of the first to make a televised advertisement for a toy. He even secured a spot during “Captain Kangaroo,” after which sales skyrocketed.  

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Image from HHM Collections

Cootie has long enjoyed status as a cultural icon. In 1975, a giant fifteen-foot tall Cootie floated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Also, in honor of the game’s thirtieth anniversary, two streets in Plymouth, Minnesota were renamed “Cootie Lane” and “Cootie Boulevard”. Today the game continues to be enjoyed by little ones and fondly remembered by multiple generations.  

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Image from HHM Collections

One Hennepin County resident’s hobby turned into a million-dollar toy company.  Schaper sold the rights to Cootie and his line of games to Tyco in 1971. Milton Bradley acquired the game in 1987 and still sells it today. Schaper passed away in 1980. He was fondly remembered by his family as a cheerful, kind, and generous man. All characteristics that make sense for someone who brought happiness to so many children.  

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Sources: 

“Cootie Game’s 30th Anniversary is This Year,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 3, 1978. Star Tribune Archive. 

“Firm Hopes This Year You’ll Have Giant-Size Cootie Itch,” Minneapolis Star, March 13, 1958. Star Tribune Archive. 

Levy, Paul. “Can’t Shake This Bug,” Star Tribune, November 28, 1988. Star Tribune Archive. 

Schaper, William H. Separable Toy Figure for a Contruction Game or the Like. U.S. Design Patent 167,006 filed March 20, 1950, and issued June 10, 1952. 

Strickler, Jeff. “Toy Story,” Star Tribune, May 21, 2014. Star Tribune Archive. 

 

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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1 thought on “The Man Behind the Bug: The Inventor of the Game of Cootie

  1. Rita Martinez

    We were a family of 4 kids and we LOVED that game. Easy to play so worked well for kids of different ages

    Like

    Reply

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