Learn About Coleco, A Former Giant in the Toy and Gaming Industry

There have been many companies that sold different kinds of toys in the 1980s, but only a few are considered to be successful at producing and selling high-quality toys that kids and teenagers enjoy. One of these successful companies is Coleco, which was founded in 1932 by a businessman named Maurice Greenberg. However, what many people don’t know is that before Coleco sold toys, they were first known for selling leather supplies and paraphernalia to shoe repairers. To know more, here is a company profile of Coleco, a former giant in the toy and gaming industry.

The Origins of Coleco

Coleco Industries, Inc. (the current name of the company) started in 1932 under a different name, The Connecticut Leather Company. The company specialized in supplying leather and shoe repair supplies and paraphernalia (often known as “shoe findings”) for shoe repairers in the United States. The company was founded by Maurice Greenberg, who later expanded the company to sell rubber footwear in 1938.

During World War II (1939 to 1945), the demand for the items and supplies that the company was selling increased, most likely due to the need for leather boots, belts, and other accessories and pieces of clothing that soldiers have to wear in the war. By the end of the said conflict, the Connecticut Leather Company became much larger than before. Due to the growth of the business, Greenberg decided to expand to hat cleaning stalls, marble shoeshine stands, and new shoe machinery at factories so that the business can sell more leather shoes and other leather goods. [1]

In the early 1950s, Leonard Greenberg, Maurice Greenberg’s son, was instrumental in the expansion of the company to sell leather lacing and leathercraft kits. Then, at the New York Toy Fair in 1954, the company’s leather moccasin kit that allows kids (with the supervision of adults) to craft their own pair of shoes, was selected as the Child Guidance Prestige Toy. Due to popular demand for the toys, the Connecticut Leather Company decided to focus its efforts on the toy business. Two years after the success of the leather moccasin kit, the Connecticut Leather Company began producing toys and wading pools (shallow pools) made of plastic.

From the Connecticut Leather Company to Coleco

In 1961, the company let go of its shoe findings and leather business and sold it to another company, and then it changed its name from Connecticut Leather Company to Coleco Industries, Inc. The name “Coleco” is derived from the first two letters of each word in the company’s former name. One year after the name change, Coleco went public, and they offered 120,000 shares of stock with a price tag of $5 per share.

To expand its lineup of swimming pools, Coleco acquired Kestral Corporation, a business that was based in Springfield, Massachusetts, and was a known manufacturer of inflatable vinyl toys and pools. The purchase of Kestral Corporation also made Coleco the largest manufacturer of above-ground swimming pools on the market.

Arnold Greenberg, the brother of Leonard Greenberg, joined the company in 1966 thanks to Leonard’s persuasion. Throughout the late 1960s, Coleco was able to acquire a few toy companies, including Playtime Products in 1966 and Eagle Toys of Canada in 1968. By the end of the said decade, Coleco was operating ten manufacturing facilities.

Coleco’s Discovery of the Gaming Market

Unfortunately, by the 1970s, Coleco’s toy business experienced financial difficulties even though their sales had grown. In 1972, Coleco decided to pursue the snowmobile market, but due to the decreased snowfall during that year, Coleco’s snowmobile business didn’t really take off.

In the mid-1970s, many toy and tech companies rushed to produce different game consoles or game systems due to the boom of video games in that era. The video game boom of the 1970s was caused by the release of the Pong console by Atari, which was originally manufactured in 1972. The first gaming system made by Coleco was the Telstar, and this console was produced and marketed from 1976 to 1978. There were different models of the Telstar that were created between the said years, including the Telstar Classic, the Telstar Deluxe, and the Telstar Ranger, and each of these consoles would have different sets of video games built into their system.

Throughout the late 70s and early 80s, Coleco continued to be successful in the electronics and gaming market. After Telstar, Coleco moved on to manufacture handheld electronic games that included Electronic Quarterback in 1978. Then, in 1982, Coleco produced tabletop “mini-arcades,” which are smaller versions of arcade machines that you can play at home. Some of the mini-arcades that Coleco produced from 1982 to 1983 include Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, and Zaxxon.

The ColecoVision served as Coleco’s return to the video game console market when it was released in 1982. The ColecoVision is considered one of Coleco’s most successful products in the company’s history, as they were able to sell more than half a million units in 1982 alone. [2] Besides the game cartridges that they produced for the ColecoVision, Coleco also sold ROM (read-only memory) cartridges for other game consoles like the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision (produced by Mattel). If you want to know more about the ColecoVision, you can check out this ColecoVision Games Guide, which features details for all the available games for the console during the 80s.

Coleco During the Video Game Crash of 1983

When the video game crash of 1983 happened due to the overwhelming number of low-quality video games and gaming systems that led to a massive decrease in sales, Coleco was struggling to get back up, as it was in the 1980s when they focused too much on electronics and gaming. Bob Greenberg, who is the son of Leonard Greenberg, left his job as a program developer at Microsoft to join Coleco and try to save the company.

Because the tech market was moving from video game consoles to home computers, Coleco decided to launch their own home computer called the Coleco Adam. Unfortunately, the product failed, as it was deemed by critics and customers to be unreliable due to the many fatal bugs they experience while using the computer. By 1985, Coleco had already withdrawn from the electronics market.

Coleco’s Return to Toys

vintage Cabbage Patch Kids doll

In 1983, Coleco slowly moved back to producing toys by selling Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. Fortunately, the dolls were very successful, and this led to the company forming a partnership with known author Dr. Seuss to create a line of dolls based on the author’s characters. In addition to toys, Coleco also developed video games for the Dr. Seuss brand.

Coleco would later purchase Leisure Dynamics, a manufacturer of popular board games like Perfection and Aggravation. Moreover, the company also purchased Selchow and Righter, another board game company that was known for producing Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble.

Unfortunately, the Cabbage Patch Kids, as well as all the toys and board games that Coleco sold in the mid-1980s started to decline in sales. In 1988, Coleco was forced to file for bankruptcy. A Canada-based sporting goods company called SLM Action Sports Inc. purchased Coleco’s line of swimming pool and snow goods in the same year Coleco filed for bankruptcy. Then, in 1989, one of the biggest toy companies in the world, Hasbro, purchased Coleco’s remaining product lines, including the board games mentioned above and Cabbage Patch Kids. Hasbro would sell the Cabbage Patch Kids license to Mattel in 1994, and the license would then be given to numerous companies until it got into the hands of Wicked Cool Toys in 2015.

For those that want to buy the classic Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, here are two great products to check out:

Despite Coleco not existing as a company anymore (although a brand revitalization company called River West Brands revived Coleco as a brand in 2005), its name will forever be etched in history as one of the most influential companies in the toy and gaming markets. While the revival of Coleco as a brand may not happen today or in the next few years, the overwhelming nostalgia for Coleco products will remain in the hearts of many of its fans.  


[1] Jeffrey, C. (2022, January 13). Coleco: Gone But Not Forgotten. TECHSPOT. Retrieved June 26, 2023, from https://www.techspot.com/article/2301-coleco/

[2] Beren, D. (2022, December 17). The History of the ColecoVision Video Game Console. History-Computer. Retrieved June 26, 2023, from https://history-computer.com/the-history-of-the-colecovision-video-game-console/