by Bruce Whitehill
Donald J. Mazer was a game lover and a football enthusiast. In 1935, as a law graduate on sabbatical from Columbia University, he teamed up with Charles Berolzheimer, a businessman and investor, to form a game company that operated out of a rented garage in San Leandro, California. (Records indicate a Donald J. Mazer, Sr., in a law school class at Columbia in 1924.)
Berolzheimer owned a few small companies, one of which was a printing firm, and had been a fellow student and friend of Mazer’s at Columbia. They called the new business Cadaco Ltd., “Cadaco” being an acronym for “Charles and Don and Company.” (Records indicate the involvement also of Donald’s brother, Joseph Mazer.) The first game the company released was most likely FOTO WORLD (though, according to Douglas Bolton, who joined the company some years later, TOUCHDOWN was actually Mazer’s first game, which he continued to work on until its release in 1937). FOTO WORLD sold probably less than 2000 copies.
Next came ELMER LAYDEN’S SCIENTIFIC FOOTBALL GAME, released in 1936. Mazer had TOUCHDOWN in the works, and either he contacted football personality Elmer Layden, asking to use his name on a game, or Layden contacted him (which seems less likely, considering the obscurity of Cadaco at the time). Layden was the athletic director at the University of Notre Dame. A letter on university stationary dated Feb. 24, 1936, from Layden to Mazer, was part of the game’s cover illustration. TOUCHDOWN, “the Scientific Football,” came out the following year and was similar to the ELMER LAYDEN game; it was designed by Mazer using the statistical probabilities of the various plays in football. Later versions of the game were called VARSITY and ALL-AMERICAN FOOTBALL. According to Bolton, only a few thousand copies of TOUCHDOWN were sold.
In 1937, Cadaco moved to Oakland, California. Donald Mazer married Eleanor Ellis, and (says Bolton) she advanced him the $5000 that he needed to buy out Charles Berolzheimer. The name of the company was changed to Cadaco-Ellis, and the company was moved to Chicago because of union problems in California and because of the manufacturing and distribution advantages of being in Chicago. Cadaco-Ellis was located in the Merchandise Mart (1446 Merchandise Mart, Chicago 54, Ill. from the 1930s till 1964 or ‘65), an impressive building built by Marshall Field in the 1920s and then sold to the Kennedy family after the war.
The Mazers were highly intelligent people; Donald was extremely knowledgeable when it came to geography. But both were very opinionated, and possibly conservative, in terms of their feelings about certain products. They rejected an offer from Charles Darrow to take MONOPOLY (as did many other major companies); they turned it down probably because it was thought to be too complicated and, being west coast people, they thought why pay a royalty when they could make their own with a concept of financing a movie. And they refused COOTIE, which was brought to them via someone who knew someone who knew the postal employee who developed it from a pencil and paper game. Eleanor said no one would ever buy a game with a name like that, and they turned it down. Don would seldom go against Eleanor’s wishes.
Around the time of the move, a man named Stanley Hopkins brought TRIPOLEY to the company, and, instead of a payment or royalty, he received a partnership interest in the company. (Bolton remembers a silk-screened edition of TRIPOLEY printed on suede cloth, which may have been made in California.)
In 1940, YANKEE DOODLE became a popular game, judging by the number of copies that are still around today. Historians will note that the copyright was by Crandall & Ellis. Crandall was not related to the famous name connected with blocks and with E.G. Selchow (PIGS IN CLOVER), but was C. Leslie Crandall, a bohemian artist in San Francisco who did much of the artwork for Cadaco-Ellis, becoming a partner around the late ‘30s until the 1960s when the company was sold.
In 1941, the company came out with ETHAN ALLEN’S ALL-STAR BASEBALL, a classic that eventually became ALL-STAR BASEBALL, which was in the company’s line for almost half a century; Ethan Allen was a major league outfielder from 1926-1938. The game consists of cardboard discs that have the names and stats of players on them; collectors look for the early sets with discs of famous players, especially those in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Around 1941 or ‘42, the company produced TREASURE HUNT, another highly successful game. Wartime took its toll on the company (as was the case with many businesses) because of the scarcity of materials and the need for personnel to join military service.
When Donald Mazer got back from the navy, he met Douglas Bolton and hired him as his assistant in 1945. The Mazers were still conservative in their approach to products, and the company was struggling. Donald Mazer turned down SCRABBLE in 1950. According to Bolton, early in 1946, he sat in on a conference with Don & Eleanor Mazer and a man named Twitchell, game buyer for Marshal Field in Chicago, when Twitchell said SCRABBLE was just another anagram game. Cadaco-Ellis’ ANAGRAM game of TREASURE HUNT was doing well at that time. Donald Mazer became ill the same year, and died in 1951; his wife took over the company and made Douglas Bolton the general manager. Bolton got the license to SCRABBLE in 1953, and Cadaco-Ellis sold a cardboard version of the game under the name SKIP-A-CROSS (James Bruno would not allow the use of the SCRABBLE name); SKIP-A-CROSS was the only official SCRABBLE game marketed under a different name. In the first year, SKIP-A-CROSS sold one million copies, but then sales went down as production of SCRABBLE sets increased and SCRABBLE started becoming more available. SKIP-A-CROSS sold 60,000 in its second year, and then was dropped from the line. But, according to Bolton, the short success of SKIP-A-CROSS was enough to give the business a new impetus at a time when the company was somewhat static.
Rapid Mounting and Finishing Co., a manufacturer of advertising displays and other cardboard products, and a supplier of cardboard material to Cadaco-Ellis, bought Cadaco-Ellis in 1964; on March 5, 1965, the name was changed back to Cadaco.
Collectors are interested in the early Cadaco games, including TRANSPORT PILOT, a good graphic game from 1938, and the original FOTO-ELECTRIC FOOTBALL, which came in a large, all-wood box, with a light bulb inside and movable die-cut cardboard overlays. The defensive player would place his team figures on the surface, and the black paper between the overlay and the light box was removed slowly; the light would shine along the hidden die-cut path, indicating the route of the runner. The runner would move along this path toward the opponent’s goal until it hit one of the playing pieces placed by the defensive player in various locations on the board. FOTO-ELECTRIC FOOTBALL was later produced in all-cardboard versions.
Another highly collectible Cadaco-Ellis game is LITTLE BLACK SAMBO, which had possibly more than one version between the date of the instructions, 1945, and the 1952 year marked on the gameboard. MARLIN PERKINS’ ZOO PARADE, from 1955, is another sought-after licensed game.
In the mid ’60s, the company also made a series of “Cluster Puzzles,” unusual jigsaw puzzles in which odd-shaped charters fit around one another; the hint sheet that was provided told you the relationship between adjacent characters.
Later, Cadaco-Ellis produced one of the few Jewish-context games to be made by a major company, CHUTZPAH (1967), which means “unmitigated gall.” It did very poorly.
Cadaco changed its name to “Cadaco Toys.” In addition to having a large line of toy products, the company continued to make TRIPOLEY, as well as the religious games of TEN COMMANDMENTS and BIBLE TRIVIA, which were in the line for some time; BIBLE TRIVIA was a major success for the company, and responsible for considerable revenue. Cadaco’s educational games included KNOW YOUR AMERICA and SPELL-IT, and Cadaco continued its stake in sports games with SLAM-BASKET and SUPER SLAM-BASKET.
CANNONBALL RUN probably sold less than 10,000. THE MARTIN LUTHER KING GAME was “an absolute disaster.” Bolton says there was no significant market in the black community for games. Richard Levy, inventor of ADVERTEASING and co-author (with Ron Weingartner) of books on inventing toys and games, brought the game to Bolton, saying it would not sell well as a game but as a memorial. Levy got the idea for the game when his daughter, unexpectedly (to Levy) home from school, said that it was a holiday–the first holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Levy developed the game and he and/or Bolton corresponded with King’s widow and got approval to use the name and photos and release the game; the main photo was taken from a mural in the library in Washington, D.C. Less than 5000 games were made but maybe only 1000-2000 were sold; 600-700 were probably given away, and the rest were burned.
In April 2010, Cadaco, a division of Rapid Displays, was purchased by Poof-Slinky company for an undisclosed sum. Rapid Displays wanted to concentrate on its primary business of making displays and fixtures for ins-store marketing. Poof-Slinky, which produces the Poof brand foam balls and the line of slinky toys as well as Ideal games, does not even mention the Cadaco name in its catalog. Cadaco was once home to the long-running Ethan Allen’s ALL STAR BASEBALL, but brief articles mentioning the acquisition by Poof-Slinky mostly mention only TRIPOLEY. The Cadaco website is gone, and, I fear, the name will soon disappear as well.
Abbot Award Honors Douglas R. Bolton of Cadaco-Ellis
Douglas R. Bolton was honored by the American Game Collectors Association (now the Association of Game & Puzzle Collectors – AGPC) with the 1995 Abbot Award, presented at the AGCA international convention in Indiana.
This history of Cadaco-Ellis, one of the oldest game companies in the U.S., can be pieced together only from a few sparse documents, some early company catalogs, and the memory and reminiscences of one of the company’s earliest employees, Douglas Bolton. Three weeks out of the army, Douglas Bolton hopped around Grand Rapids and Chicago in and out of different jobs deciding what he didn’t want to do. He didn’t want to work as a cost accountant, which he gave up after about five days at Standard Oil Co., and he didn’t want to work as a market analyst, which occupied his time for six months at Neilson, the ratings company.
Then he met Donald J. Mazer, who had also just returned from military service, and who had a small game company called Cadaco-Ellis. It was 1945, the tenth anniversary of Mazer’s company which began as Cadaco Ltd. in a garage in California and wound up in the famed Merchandise Mart in Chicago; the name was changed to indicate the addition of Mazer’s new wife, Eleanor Ellis, who financed her husband’s buy-out of his partner. Douglas Bolton quickly became a key man in the organization. Donald Mazer died in 1951, and his wife took over the company, making Bolton General Manager. But he was frustrated by her conservative attitude toward the business, and the company was going nowhere. Donald Mazer had turned down SCRABBLE before he died, but Douglas Bolton met with James Brunot in Connecticut in 1952 and was able to get the license to the game. Though he could not get Brunot to allow him to use the title, SCRABBLE, he was able to produce a cardboard version of SCRABBLE in 1953 under the name SKIP-A-CROSS. Two years later, the Production & Marketing company was producing so many units of SCRABBLE through Selchow & Righter, that the sales of SKIP-A-CROSS fell off, and the game was dropped from the line; however, the large volume of sales of SKIP-A-CROSS for the two years it was produced (one million the first year, and 60,00 the next) revived Cadaco-Ellis.
In 1957, Douglas Bolton was offered a job by one of Cadaco’s suppliers, Rapid Mounting and Finishing Co., a manufacturer of advertising displays and other cardboard products, including that used in the manufacturing of game boards and boxes. Douglas Bolton accepted the offer, and since the company he was now working for continued to supply his old employer, Bolton maintained his contact with Cadaco-Ellis. He knew the owner of Rapid Mounting and Finishing Co. was looking to purchase a company with a product base, and when Eleanor Ellis Mazer decided it was time to retire, Rapid Mounting and Finishing Co. purchased Cadaco-Ellis. It was 1964, Douglas Bolton was made the general manager of his old company, now called, simply, Cadaco, and the company expanded and prospered. By the late 1960s, Douglas Bolton became the president; he headed up the company for two decades, retiring in 1986.
Douglas Bolton lives with his wife of fifteen years, Florence, two miles from Lake Michigan, 22 miles north of the Indiana-Michigan border, and 90 miles from Chicago. The way he recites these distances suggests a familiarity with figures and leads to no surprise when the first interests he mentions are financial markets and investments. Douglas enjoys his two sons and grandchildren, and he and Florence spend time traveling, listening to music, and caring for their nine acres of property. Douglas enjoys reading and hopes to write a “quasi-autobiography” about his years in the toy and game industry.
At 75, Douglas Bolton is not ashamed of his age. In fact, when asked about what his plans were for the future, he replied, “Living another 20 yrs or so.”
The Abbot Award
The Abbot Award is named after Ann Abbot, one of the first game inventors to design unique American games, rather than reproduce European ones. She invented what is considered to be one of the first American card games, DR. BUSBY, in 1843, and what is thought of as the first American sports game, THE GAME OF THE RACES (Wm. Crosby produced her horse racing game in 1843). The Abbot Award is meant to honor entrepreneurs in the game industry who have made a unique contribution to the body of American games, from the standpoint of artistic achievement, playability, manufacturing or marketing contributions, and/or social relevance.
Previous Abbot Award winners were Jim Prentice, founder of the Electric Game Company of Holyoke, MA and Robert Whiteman, founder and head of the Bettye-B company in New York during the 1950s.