Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Connecting the Dots

Steve Jobs referenced "connecting the dots" in his now famous commencement speech at Stanford University on June 12, 2005. “Connect the dots” is now popularly used to mean serial clues/dots when properly connected foretell a calamitous event. Early in his career, inventor Dr. Howard Wexler found his own way to make a serial connection. After many months of seeking a unique game format, he realized that all games at that time were played on a horizontal plane. Wexler found a way to connect four circular disks or chips of like color onto a vertical plane and Connect 4 was born. Since its introduction by Milton Bradley in 1974, Wexler’s discovery has grown into a top game brand with Hasbro. 

Coincidentally, in 1970, after receiving a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, Howard joined Hasbro where he invented the very first developmental line of 17 infant toys, called “Your Baby”. This was a breakthrough line, since forty years ago, there were no toys for babies. All previously marketed playthings targeted pre-schoolers. Howard says that while he is best known for Connect 4, he is most proud that he was influential in introducing the world to infant toys.  
Connect 4 and his baby toy line are not the only industry contributions originated by Howard Wexler. During his highly creative and productive career, he has personally invented and licensed over 120 toys and games. But as he admits, Connect 4 is his "Gone with the Wind" largely due to the worldwide acceptance of its fast yet challenging play. Since introduction of the original two-player version, Connect 4 has been marketed as a miniature "travel" edition (Connect 4 Fun on the Run), as a handheld LCD electronic form, as a computer game and most recently as a brand extension called Connect 4 Launchers. Through the years, Wexler has continued to actively assist Hasbro with designs.

Beyond his search for his next WOW! item, Howard has now extended his talents to philanthropic endeavors by helping young budding creative thinkers  in two projects. He will direct an accredited course in Creativity at CCNY where students will learn creative thinking through invention of toys and games with the ultimate goal to license their creation to a company. Secondly, he will partner to lead a program in entrepreneurship at Manhattan's Stuyvesant High School called Toys by Teens where teenagers will be exposed to all aspects of running their own toy company.
Now as throughout his long career, Howard Wexler continues his passion for the hard work of invention knowing it requires days, weeks and months of deliberate, focused thinking. It begins with identifying a specific unmet niche in the marketplace through "connecting the dots" to the type of new toy or game that fills that niche. He’s done it over a hundred times in his career and will very likely do it again. Is there another Connect 4 coming?

Wexler meets Connect 4 sales reps in India.


  1. Thanks for this great history, Ron. I thought that Ned Strongin also participated on Connect 4. Anyway, it's a well-deserved "classic", not easy to come by!

  2. Though Howard Wexler just can’t seem to help himself from taking all the credit for creating Connect-4, it was a collaborative effort between him and Ned Strongin. Ned always said he was the one who suggested it be turned into a vertical game from the horizontal version Howard originally presented to him. Connect-4 was licensed to Milton Bradley by Strongin & Wexler Corp. in 1973, shortly after which Ned and Howard dissolved their business. Ned (and now Ned's estate) and Howard continue to share control of, and royalties from, Connect-4 equally. Ned remained active in the toy business through the late 1990s, during which he was responsible for the design of many other successful toy products. He died in 2011, shortly before turning 92. If Ned were alive today, he’d get a chuckle out of Howard’s Connect-4 claims and say leave it be - the truth is the truth, anyone old enough to care already knows the truth and the 50/50 ownership and royalty split speak for themselves. Regardless, it would be nice for Ned to get the credit he deserves.

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