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How One of America's Most Beloved Toy Makers Rebounded From Near Death

Wham-O created the Frisbee, Slip 'N Slide and more. Then it fell into disrepair -- until a new leader came along.

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This story appears in the March 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

John Hinnen always wanted to make things. A born tinkerer, the son of Illinois spent the better part of his 20s designing toys and novelties in his parents’ garage. He created a line of greeting cards and peddled them all around downtown Chicago in his cowboy boots. He created an elaborate child’s educational toy that got good feedback but was so complicated to build that he couldn’t make the economics work. He had a little wooden toy that twisted from a heart to an egg that, he says, he “thought was the next pet rock.” It wasn’t. 

Doug Chayka

Life would go on. He married. In May of 1989, he and his wife were expecting their first child. “I had to get real,” he says. He got a job at the Diamond-Star Motors plant in Bloomington. He had two more kids, bought a house by a park in Peoria. It was a happy life, though with a sacrifice: “I kind of put the dream on hold,” he says.

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