Burt Meyer

Recipient, Lifetime Achievement, 2011

burt-meyer.jpg

Burt Meyer has had a lifetime of Brite ideas

For nearly 60 years, Burt Meyer has had fun pegged. He invented Lite Brite and co-invented other fantastic pieces of plastic like Mr. Machine, Mouse Trap, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Toss Across and more. Meyer will be honored with the Toy and Game Inventors of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Award this week. “A toy brings joy and something positive into the world,” Meyer said. “I am proud to have been a toy inventor and certainly proud to receive this honor.”

In the mid-1950s, Meyer was one of the first designers hired by toy design pioneer, Marvin Glass. He later became a partner at Marvin Glass & Associates (MGA). Ground-breaking games like Mouse Trap, co-invented with designer Gordon Barlow, are just a part of Burt’s resume of fun. “Gordon was very new at the time [at MGA] and volunteered to work on it,” Meyer said. “The engineering of the item got complicated and he was going to abandon it for another project.” Meyer recognized the potential in the game and convinced Barlow to stick with it. “Mouse Trap changed the face of the game industry,” Meyer said. When it was released by Ideal Toys in 1963, it was world’s first three-dimensional, plastic board game.

Burt’s favorite “item,” as he calls his inventions, is Lite Brite. Burt’s brainstorm of using translucent, colored pegs to funnel light, has given kids creative fun at their fingertips for 44 years. Meyer recalled the moment when he sold the idea to Hasbro’s president, Merrill Hassenfeld. “I brought Merrill into our conference room,” Meyer said. “I dimmed the lights and plugged it [the Lite Brite prototype] in. As soon as I put a peg in, it lit up. After he tried it himself, he sat back and said ‘That’s my item!’ He and Marvin inked a deal within an hour.” Lite Brite has been a staple in Hasbro’s line ever since.

In 1988 Marvin Glass & Associates disbanded. Meyer, who had retired a few years prior, formed Meyer/Glass with 15-20 former MGA designers. “I was happy to be retired, but when the doors closed on MGA, there were a number of very good people out of work,” Meyer said. “I saw it as a chance to keep Marvin’s name going forward.” For twenty more years, Meyer/Glass designed hits like Pretty, Pretty Princess, Catch Phrase, and the recently released Loopz. Meyer’s son Steve joined Meyer/Glass in 1990. “I learned so much from him,” Meyer said of his father. “Design, pitching an item, negotiation — the whole process. It was a terrific experience.”

Burt Meyer has never stopped playing. He’s been a pilot for most of his life and still flies for fun at the ripe, young age of 85. He is most likely the oldest man to cross-country ski a 150 mile route to the North Pole. He was 69 at the time. Meyer also bicycled from San Francisco, California to Charleston, South Carolina in 41 days. “It sounds like a lot of work,” he casually said, “but it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.”

It’s no wonder, that when asked to name the most important thing he learned from Marvin Glass, Meyer answered, “Persistence. There’s no rule or formula to inventing toys. Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere.”

Thankfully for us, Burt Meyer never stopped looking for his next brite idea.

(Article by Tim Walsh, who has interviewed Burt Meyer for various play projects including his book Timeless Toys and a documentary film on toy inventors called Toyland. Find Tim playing at: www.theplaymakers.com.)