Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Very Friendly Robot

Long, long ago, I had the memorable experience of heading Playskool's R & D Department for several years when it was located in Chicago. Actually, it was more of a D & D Department (design and development) since little "research' was done in Chicago. "Research" was handled at Milton Bradley's corporate offices in Springfield, MA.

Each year. D & D was to create new preschool playthings with input from Playskool's Marketing Department. Unquestioningly, the most successful project launched during my time in the Department was to replace a clunky, mechanical action Computer with "something new and more exciting".

That "something new" assignment lead to Alphie The Robot; a friendly looking space age character full of beeps, hoops, music, LEDs, and play modes powered by a 9V battery. Unbeknownst to us at the outset of the project in 1977, that original Alphie would enjoy sufficient longevity to become an early preschool brand and appear in nine ideations over its market life from the introductory year of 1978 until 2011!

The "toy gods" looked favorably on the project from day one. An all-star team was assembled to make Alphie happen. There were many key players including:

Michael Meyers who had just joined Milton Bradley as Vice President Corporate R & D after successful product years at Child Guidance and Marx toys. Mike pushed his premonition that Star Wars, then about to burst onto big screens everywhere, would make "space" toys a hot commodity. His years heading significant R & D projects made him the perfect liaison between MB's budding electronics group and Playskool's design specs for Alphie.  Mike's important sidebar contribution was the serendipitous suggestion to name the then nameless toy after his pet cat, Alphie! Suggestion given; suggestion trademarked!

Paul Lapidus managed the talented Playskool designers who were tasked with creating an appealing space creature acceptable to preschool mothers and the internal corporate panel of critical observers. Through the years, Alphie would get several design "makeovers" and dimensional changes, but it was the toy's initial form and functions that won the hearts and minds of the toy trade and huge numbers of consumers.

Greg Hyman and Larry Greenberg had just been retained by Mel Taft, Milton Bradley's Sr. VP Corporate R & D to consult on the company's electronic projects. The timing was perfect. There couldn't have been two more co-operative and knowledgeable external partners. Taking Playskool specs for the toy's functions, Hyman and Greenberg's first step was to provide a "prove-it" breadboard and when approved to then layout the circuitry on a PC board that would become Alphie's microprocessor "brain" in production. Though Greenberg passed unexpectedly in 1992, Greg Hyman shepherded all eight subsequent Alphie electronic ideations as the friendly robot grew into a major Hasbro brand.

From that tip-off assignment for original Alphie, Greg Hyman went on to co-create and license over 120 state of the art toys including notables like Major Morgan, Talking Barney, Baby All Gone and Tickle Me Elmo. Documentation on much of Greg's toy invention can be viewed at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY.

Through a generous gift from Hyman and Greenberg to the Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, RI, Alphie appears on a plaque in an examining room to offer a friendly, welcoming face to little tykes daily.


  1. I had the first Alphie when I was a kid in 1978. The best learning toy and pal ever!

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  3. The best learning toy and pal ever!Thanks for sharing.
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