"Games to Grow Up With"
One thing we all did as kids back in 1962 was to play games. Not video games, as they weren’t invented yet. Not even the primitive PONG was around then, and no one had a clue that you could play games on your television, or might someday have your own computer. After all, computers were still room-sized things that you punched data cards for, NASA used for rocket science, or that appeared in science fiction stories. Don Milne once again, and this week on ROADTRIP-'62 ™ I’m going to talk about some of the games I remember most fondly from the years around 1962: Ed-U-Cards. Sure, we also played outdoor games, sports, and board games, but we couldn’t play those in the back seat of a car. Some of the card games could be played there, while on a road trip.
The Ed-U-Cards Company was originally located in Long Island City, New York and began, as best as I can discover, about 1946 as a manufacturer of educational flash cards and card games. This was a good time to begin a publishing company, as the paper rationing of World War II had ended. Lots of new magazines and other paper uses started up then, as the paper mills suddenly had lots of paper available, and that meant low prices. The same thing happened with aluminum after the war, so you suddenly saw aluminum siding, decorative art castings, tools and more.
For those of you used to video games, flash cards contain a question on one side and the answer on the other side. For example, a math problem such as 2+2 was on one side and 4 was on the other, and the instructor showed you the question side and you then replied with the (hopefully correct) answer. They are still being manufactured and sold, and exist for many subjects including math, state capitols, music, famous people, and various sciences. Ed-U-Cards produced many flash cards through the years, sometimes updating nothing more than the box, and selling the same old cards. We used to have a lot of flash cards in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, but I can’t remember if any of them were from Ed-U-Cards. Many other companies produced them, including Milton Bradley. And apparently, someone thought some of these subjects also had game potential.
Ed-U-Cards published standard flash card ideas, such as math, but also some unusual ideas such as "Tree Spotter Cards." They produced some story cards, such as "Bible Story Cards", which had parts of various stories on cards that you collected in a game. And, they turned to games, likely because there was more profit potential in entertainment than education, which is still true today. Some of the early games were "Cowboys and Indians", "ABC And Counting" and "Batter Up Baseball" (which was later called just "Baseball"). They also soon had versions of old games that could be played with standard decks, such as "Go Fish", but they tried to differentiate their games. The "Go Fish" game had die cut cards that were shaped like a fish!
As early as 1949 Ed-U-Cards came up with a great innovation, the flip movie. Now, flip movies were not new, people had made them for ages and all animation is basically the same thing. You just have a collection of slightly different pictures, and arrange them in a sequence that when viewed rapidly suggests movement. What Ed-U-Cards did though, was to put a small flip movie on the back of each deck of cards. This gave you two toys at once! You had the game and an action toy. And they always themed the movies to the particular deck. "Cowboys and Indians" had a cowboy chasing an Indian on horseback. Later games like "Card Magic" had something coming out of a magician’s hat. And the "Mixies "set had characters becoming mixed up as you flipped.
They even got into licensed characters very early, with several Walt Disney licenses including Mickey Mouse and Pinocchio. Ed-U-Cards also added a "Popeye Card Game" in 1951 and even "Howdy Doody Dominoes." These and later licensed games were versions of old, generic games including crazy eights, solitaires, rummies, authors, and hearts. By the late 1950’s they were producing several generic and original card games. These included "Old Maid", "Mixies", "Busy Bee", and "Animal Bird Fish." "Animal Bird Fish" worked somewhat like a game of rummy, but instead of matching suits of regular cards, you matched groups of animals, birds or fish. Many games from the 1950’s, and some through to 1963, carried the Parents Magazine seal of approval. They continued to produce flash cards and even standard playing card sets, such as a mini playing card deck with zebra backs.
Ed-U-Cards also produced several lotto games, which are somewhat like bingo, where you cover spaces on a board based on the cards that are drawn. The earliest included "ABC Lotto" and "On The Farm Lotto." Later games included "The World About Us Lotto", "What’s Missing Lotto", and "Zoo Lotto." Some of these used the same drawings that were used on their cards, such as "Zoo Lotto" using the same art as "Animal Bird Fish", and "ABC Lotto" reusing artwork from the "Busy Bee" card game.
All during the 1960’s Ed-U-Cards was heavily into licensed characters. They expanded their Disney licenses, with two games based on the "Jungle Book" movie in 1965. They had a card matching game of "Bozo The Clown" and a "Capser The Friendly Ghost and his TV Friends" game. And of course they licensed some Hanna-Barbera cartoons; who could not in the early 1960’s? In 1961 they produced a "Yogi Bear" card game, "Huckleberry Hound", "Quick Draw McGraw", and "The Flintstones." They later added a "Scooby Doo" card game.
Three of my favorite games around 1962 were "Mixies", "Card Magic", and "Busy Bee." The "Mixies" were another old idea, where a figure of a person or animal was cut into three pieces and each placed on a card. You got 12 heads, 12 middles, and 12 feet and could mix them up different ways for hours on end. And we invented new ways to play by making up new rules. After we got a second set, we even discovered that the characters could be stacked up four cards tall, with two torso sections. They also inspired me and my brothers to draw more figures and add more cards to the set. The trademark for this game shows the history of Edu-Cards fairly well. The name was first used on the game in 1956, and the trademark registered in 1959. It was even renewed in 1979. Binney & Smith (see below) was the last known owner of the trademark. It was canceled in 2000 due to inactivity.
"Card Magic" was a complete magic set! It included secret markings on the back so you could arrange the cards to "guess" someone’s secret number, make cards seem to appear from the deck, and other tricks. Even with the instructions it took me some work to figure these all out. "Busy Bee" was basically a puzzle, or should I say many puzzles at once? Each card had half of an animal pictured on one of the four edges of the card. These would match up with the other half of the animal on another card, but they had point values for scoring. The one Busy Bee card was a bonus of 25 points when matched and another was a loss of points. During the course of a game the "board" you assembled looked somewhat like the game of dominoes. I remember playing this as a solitaire when I was in the hospital recovering from having my tonsils out.
In 1965 and 1966, they produced several TV show tie-in games. "The Man from U.N.C.L.E", "The Green Hornet", and even "The Monkees" were turned into decks of playing cards. These were standard playing card sets with the faces of the shows’ characters replacing the royalty face cards. They also had scenes from the shows for the numbered cards of the set. And they made other TV show tie-ins, with "Davy Crockett Adventure Card Game" and "Daniel Boone Card Game." These were both variations on the concentration game. The "Green Hornet" cards had a pastel green back. Most Ed-U-Cards had a pastel maroon back, and some were pastel blue: this is one of only two green-backed sets I have found. The "Space Race" game has been issued with both the maroon and blue backs.
Besides games, Ed-U-Cards also kept busy with flash cards and other educational cards. In 1960 and 1961 they made several "Book of Knowledge" sets co-produced with Grolier’s. These included "Book of Knowledge Famous People Picture Flash Cards" and "Book of Knowledge Inventions Flash Cards." They also created an "Ed-U-Cards Of Nature" series, with titles that included "Sea Shells", and "Butterflies And Moths." And in 1962 they packaged these and others together in the "Ed-U-Card Library." This was a group of 15 different sets of historical and science cards, including some experiments. They also created at least one "Hobby Starter Kit" under the "Ed-U-Kits" brand that actually had rock and mineral specimens!
I was not aware of any of these science cards or experiment kits when I was young, but I had a full chemistry set and was very interested in chemistry during my 3rd through 6th grade period. I was inspired by the Ed-U-Card games I played, and my interest in chemistry, to create my own Chemistry Game around 1963. It consisted of a deck of cards showing some elements, such as sodium, and some chemical compounds, such as salt (sodium chloride). The rules involved matching the elements to their compound, something like a rummy game. I really thought I had something, and submitted the idea to Ed-U-Cards! I remember making up two decks, mailing one to myself to establish a date, and then one to Ed-U-Cards. It was never published, but neither my mother nor I remember if I ever received a rejection letter.
Ed-U-Cards tried to leverage some of the games they already produced in the early 1960’s. They published special editions of their "Baseball" game for the New York Mets, the Boston Red Sox and others teams in 1964. And they changed the package of their 1957 "Space Race" card game in 1969, to show the moon landing. They produced a new type of game with "Around The Clock Solitaire", which was based on the earlier flash card set "Telling Time Flash Cards." They also issued "mini" half-sized versions of many of their old card games in 1967, sold two decks in a plastic box. Some games were licensed for foreign editions. I found a foreign edition of the "Flintstones Card Game" printed in Denmark for the Finnish market, with the original artwork unchanged. And in a new twist, they even found a way to cash in on the popularity of President John F. Kennedy after his death, by producing a set of biographical postcards of news photos.
Ed-U-Cards must have been reasonably successful, because it appears they were bought out by Binney & Smith in 1959. That is the first year that Ed-U-Cards was trademarked, and the brand was filed by Binney & Smith. Binney & Smith is also the owner of Crayola Crayons, and in the 1960s and 1970s corporate America was in love with diversification. Everyone wanted to become a conglomerate, on the theory that if you can make a profit in one business, you can make a profit in any business. Most did not. Games would probably have seemed a good diversification from art supplies, though still child-oriented. Packages through 1966 continued to spell the company "Ed-U-Cards." But by 1969 the name "Edu-Cards" is used and the boxed games begin, using the name "Edu-Games." An archive of their corporate records at Binney & Smith begins with 1971, so it’s difficult to see why or when the change was made. A similar diversification was made in 1968 when General Mills purchased Parker Brothers, another large game manufacturer.
In 1970, the newly named Edu-Cards diversified into Edu-Games, and made board games that used cards, and some that did not. They started publishing puzzles back in 1966, and by 1969 came up with the "Alpha-Book" set of letter-shaped puzzles. They offered several versions of their solitaire game: "What’s My Number Solitaire", "Wheel Of Fortune Solitaire", and "Happy Days Solitaire" (none related to TV shows). They updated old flash card sets, such as "Presidents of The United States Flash Cards", which was updated in 1975 to run through President Gerald Ford. They also licensed some other miscellaneous properties for card games, including, "Laurel & Hardy", and "Charlie Chaplin" in 1972. And they made a final Disney card game in 1975, adding a version of hearts based on the "Alice In Wonderland" characters. I could find only one new card game issued after 1976, so they appeared to be coasting after that.
By 1975 Edu-Cards was even making games that used no cards at all. "Four Thought" was a game where the winner was the first to align four marbles in a row on a specially-designed plastic board. They produced "Standoff", "Catchphrase", and "Take Ten" that year. They even tried a few non-game items, such as kits. These kits included marionettes and do-it-yourself buttons in 1971, with the "Mickey Mouse Feelable-Moveable" and "Donald Duck Jelibutton Kit." New flashcard sets from 1976 included three for metric conversions: "Metric Weight", "Metric Length", and "Metric Volume."
But by the mid-1970’s video games were on the market and rising fast; the Magnavox Odyssey system debuted in the spring of 1972 and PONG later that year. This may have signaled the beginning of the end for mass-market card games, and the diversification into board games may have been a last gasp. For whatever reasons, the marriage of crayons and games was one of the conglomerates that didn’t work, and Edu-Cards was sold to KPB Industries of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at an unknown date. Binney & Smith was bought out by Hallmark Cards in 1984 (after failed merger attempts by Cheesebrough-Ponds and Kelloggs!), so the sale of Edu-Cards may have occurred as Hallmark unloaded some of the less profitable parts of the company for cash to keep stockholders happy. Another similar transaction happened in the toy business, when in 1985 General Mills spun off their Kenner/Parker Toys division as a separate company.
In 1982 Edu-Cards finally published some Civil War cards. I say finally, because the period 1961-1964 was the centennial of the Civil War and toys and games about it were everywhere. We had toy soldiers, books, the post office printed Civil War stamps, and even the comic strip Peanuts spent a lot of time with the Civil War. But somehow Edu-Cards missed it, and came in 20 years too late. Some of the last items published by Edu-Cards recognized the changes of the computer age. In 1982, they published several flash card sets to teach computer terms. There were at least 3 sets, "Introductory Terminology", "Level 1 Terminology" and "Hardware." But by 1985 KPB was apparently out of the Edu-Cards business altogether, as the last reference I can find for any of the games is 1984. In fact, in 1995 KPB lost the rights to the "Card Magic" trademark through inaction. In 2001, the entire brand trademark for Ed-U-Cards was canceled by the US government. A new trademark for "Educards", for use on Toys and Sporting Goods Products, was filed in 2003 by an individual, and lost in 2011: I haven’t discovered anything produced under this new company.
Today some of the games live on though! The "Mixies" game has been updated with new art by a company named eeBoo, and is once again available for play. Though the art is new, you can tell in a moment it was inspired by the old Edu-Cards set, as it features the same circus figures in their familiar poses, though without the flip movie backs. "Baseball" has also been updated and issued by the same company, eeBoo. One of Edu-Cards’ later games, "Catch Phrase", is now made by different company. The term "edu-game" has even become a generic name for any game that teaches; it is often used for computer games that teach. As all of the old Ed-U-Cards copyrights and trademarks have entered the public domain, they are all up for grabs.
Just for fun, I checked with my mother to see what she remembered about Ed-U-Cards. She remembered buying many at a hardware store that is long since gone. The card packages were wrapped in cellophane. I remembered that we received most of them as Christmas presents. And I was amazed to find she actually still had these decks at home:
- Quick-Draw McGraw (in the original box)
- Mixies (parts of 4 different decks)
- Old Maid
- Rocky & Bullwinkle
- Cowboys & Indians
- Animal Bird Fish
- The Flintstones
- Huckleberry Hound
Flash cards of course live on also. Among the dozens of companies still producing them is...Binney & Smith, the former owners of the Edu-Cards name! By the late 1990’s they were right back at it, publishing a line of flash cards under their own Crayola brand name. And some other companies are again using the edu-cards name in a generic way, probably because the original trademark lapsed. One company in the United States and one in Belgium both use the name. Interestingly, they are both using it for their series of flash cards, one of the original products of the old Ed-U-Cards Company.
THIS JUST IN - November 20, 2012! - Reader Steven Leon and a partner have purchased the Ed-U-Cards trademarks and are hoping to publish some of the old games. They have inagurated a project on Kickstarter to help raise funding for the project. They expect to start with these four games: Cowboys and Indians, Space Race, Mixies, and Batter Up Baseball. The project runs through December 21, 2012. If you love these games, check it out now to see if you should participate. This should be exciting to watch!
If you’re a collector, or just interested, I have compiled a listing of the offerings of Edu-Cards over the years, as complete as I have been able to discover. I list them with years they were known to be in production, usually from copyrights on the boxes. Multiple dates indicate different package designs I found. Decks known to have flip-movie backs are also noted. Contact me if you would like a copy of my list. The games are all available from time to time in antique stores and on eBay, so you can enjoy them once again. I’ll be enjoying mine in motel rooms as we travel ROADTRIP-'62 ™ . You can watch a flip movie along with me!
(A special thanks to my mother for saving so many of these card decks for so long, and to my brother John for purchasing many others on eBay and at estate sales.)
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.