Learn About Kenner, the Company Behind the Classic Star Wars Figures

There have been a lot of popular toys that were made in the 70s and 80s, and some of those toys are created by just one brand: Kenner. Kenner Products, also known simply as Kenner, was a toy company that was headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was founded in 1946. Kenner rose to prominence when it acquired the license to make Star Wars action figures. Before getting the license, Star Wars was a relatively unknown movie that was directed by George Lucas, who directed only two films before working on the first Star Wars movie. 

What Kenner didn’t know was that they just landed on a gold mine, as Star Wars became one of the best and most recognizable film franchises of all time. Unfortunately, selling action figures of popular Star Wars characters, as well as producing other toys based on known franchises and original brands, wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat. To know more about the rise and fall of this iconic toy company, let us take a look at the business profile of Kenner.

The Origins of Kenner

Kenner was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1946 by the Steiner brothers, namely Albert, Philip, and Joseph Steiner. The company is named after the street where its office is located, and it was primarily a soap, extract, and flavoring business when it was founded. Kenner became a toy company when Albert Steiner became inspired to create a bubble-creating toy after seeing a child dip a small want into a bottle to produce bubbles. Albert, who wanted to make the activity he saw to be more fun and exciting to play, developed and released the Bubble-Matic Gun in 1946. 

The Bubble-Matic Gun allowed kids to make bigger bubbles faster and easier. The toy was a massive success for Kenner, and the high sales of the Bubble-Matic Gun enabled them to create a follow-up called the Bubble Rocket, which was released in 1949. Bubble Rocket would go on to sell more than one million units in its first year of production. [1]

Joseph Steiner, who chose to be in charge of the company’s sales and marketing, went to different cities and towns in the United States and Europe in order to promote Kenner’s products. Through Joseph’s efforts, Kenner became one of the first toy companies to advertise on national television in 1958. Then, in 1963, Kenner was able to build a showroom in New York City to further expand their reach in terms of customers.

The Kenner Gooney Bird and the Easy-Bake Oven

It was in the early 1960s when Kenner introduced the Gooney Bird, the company’s official mascot. The Gooney Bird was designed and produced by Jim Henson, the famous creator of the Muppets, who was asked by Kenner to create an appealing mascot that will surely look memorable for kids and teens. Because of how well Henson was able to design the Gooney Bird, he refurbished the character in the form of Little Bird, the smaller counterpart of Big Bird (the biggest character in the Sesame Street TV show). The Gooney Bird would be used to promote different products that Kenner markets, including the Easy-Bake Oven. [2]

The Easy-Bake Oven is a working toy oven that was introduced by Kenner in 1963. The original version of the toy oven featured two 100-watt incandescent light bulbs that act as a heat source, which can allow kids to bake different kinds of pastries like cookies and cupcakes. In the first year of its production, the Easy-Bake Oven sold more than 500,000 units. 

The current version of the Easy-Bake Oven is manufactured by Hasbro, a big toy company in the US. Here are three Easy-Bake Oven products that you can check out online:

General Mills’ Acquisition of Kenner

In 1967, General Mills (a manufacturer of processed consumer foods) purchased Kenner. Four years after the acquisition, General Mills merged Kenner with its Rainbow Crafts division, which was popular for the Play-Doh moldable clay toy for kids. So, with the merger, Kenner carried the Play-Doh brand. General Mills would later spin off Parker Brothers (a company that produces board games like Monopoly and Clue) and Kenner to form Kenner Parker Toys, Inc.

Kenner’s Star Wars Action Figures

Kenner Star Wars Millennium Falcon

Before Kenner manufactured action figures for Star Wars, it was another toy company called Mego Corporation that was offered the license for the film’s action figures. Mego Corporation was offered the license in 1976, which was one year before the release of the first Star Wars film. Unfortunately, Mego Corporation rejected the offer, so Kenner was able to pick the license up.

When the Star Wars film was released in 1977, Kenner was unprepared for the high demand for the Star Wars action figures, as the company didn’t really expect that the movie would be a massive hit at the box office. [3] So, Kenner was unable to produce enough action figures to satisfy the demand in 1977. 

In order to remedy the problem while also allowing the company to sell Star Wars merch by Christmas, Kenner sold an “Early Bird Certificate Package,” which included a certificate that can be redeemed and mailed to Kenner so that the company would send the customer four Star Wars action figures once they are produced. The four Star Wars figures included in the package are Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia.

Many more action figures, vehicles, and accessories were released by Kenner for the Star Wars franchise, and some of these action figures would become rare collectibles that are highly sought-after by toy collectors today. Kenner was able to produce the first generation of Star Wars action figures until 1985 when the demand for the toys decreased. However, Kenner would revive their Star Wars line of action figures in 1995, although the line wasn’t as successful as the first generation.

Hasbro, who currently owns the Kenner brand, has been producing retro versions of the Kenner Star Wars action figures for many years. There are some action figures that serve as rereleases of classic characters, while there are also toys based on recent Star Wars films and TV shows. Here are three Kenner Star Wars action figures that you can purchase online:

Kenner’s The Real Ghostbuster Action Figures

Besides Star Wars action figures, Kenner was also successful in producing and selling action figures based on The Real Ghostbuster, an animated TV show that ran from 1986 to 1991 and is an adaptation of the 1984 live-action film Ghostbusters. 

The initial line of toys produced for The Real Ghostbusters stayed true to what appeared in the show, but after a few years into production, Kenner had more liberties to manufacture action figures and accessories that didn’t appear in the show. Fortunately, Hasbro (the current owner of the Kenner brand) rereleased the retro Ghostbusters action figures so that those that have fond memories of the toys will be able to get them today. Here are three classic toys that you can get from The Real Ghostbusters toy line:

Tonka and Hasbro’s Acquisition of Kenner

Hasbro logo

Kenner Parker Toys, Inc. was acquired by Tonka in 1987. After acquiring the company, Tonka reestablished Kenner as a separate division. Then, when Tonka was acquired by Hasbro in 1991, Kenner also became a part of the acquisition. [4] Hasbro decided to close the offices of Kenner in Cincinnati in 2000, and the product lines of the said company merged with Hasbro’s toy lines.

These are everything you need to know about Kenner and the current state of the brand. Although Kenner has been owned by Hasbro for many years now, Hasbro has been quite commendable lately in terms of its revival of the Kenner brand, as there are now hundreds of different Kenner products that are available online and in toy stores. While it may be impossible for Kenner to return as an independent company, it is sure that Hasbro will continue producing popular retro toys under the said brand.


[1] Play and Playground Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Kenner. Play and Playground Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://www.pgpedia.com/k/kenner

[2] Coopee, T. (2021, February 27). This Week: Jim Henson and the Kenner Gooney Bird. Global Toy News. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://globaltoynews.com/2021/02/27/this-week-jim-henson-and-the-kenner-gooney-bird/

[3] Roddy BW. (2017). This Is The Empty Box You’re Looking For: How The First Kenner ‘Star Wars ‘Toys Came To Be. Vocal Media Geeks. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://vocal.media/geeks/this-is-the-empty-box-you-re-looking-for-how-the-first-kenner-star-wars-toys-came-to-be

[4] Dusenberry, T. (2021, May 6). 30 Years Ago – The Toy Industry Changed Forever! LinkedIn. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/30-years-ago-toy-industry-changed-forever-tom-dusenberry