Post #3: First Products

Project Update:  We've decided to make the Bandit Ball's initial production run a "First Edition".  Still awaiting a timeline from the manufacturer. Stay tuned!  

First Products:   In my 4th year of college I came up with a solar hot dog cooker and aptly named it the "Sundawgger."    This never made it past the prototype stage but boy did it cook a mean wiener!   My fraternity brother, engineering student and still close friend, Marty Kiesewetter, came up with the parabolic curve and focal point necessary to make sunlight hit the dog at just the right spot and sizzle it up. Marty's parabolic equation was Y=1/6th x².   I still have no idea what that means!  As a shout out to hot dogs everywhere, "Sundawg Design" became the business name I used for years.

While in Peoria and working at odd jobs in 1981, I began to show models of stuff I had made to local shop owners.   Perusing through bookstores, gift stores and malls… I set my sights on making a line of things that had entertained me the most in all of those places… Greeting Cards.   

I came up with a group of 70 original designs. They were simple and "punny".  Historically, bad puns are a Hinnen family trait so it was easy to think of ideas. One example was a pack of wolves in Santa hats sitting around a campfire.  On the inside was offered the lovely sentiment:  "Have a Howling, Jowling Christmas!"

I made an appointment for an interview in November, 1981 with a large national card manufacturer in downtown Chicago.  I was 24.   This was my first big layout of stuff and I had put my all into it.  

I drove up to Chi-Town, which I’d done many times while in college.  As I made my way to the company office on North Broadway Street, I was scared to my boots. I wore my corduroy sport coat and my grandfather’s brown tie.  And I think I did wear my cowboy boots.  Geez… what an impression.  The meeting went well and after I wondered what I'd been so afraid of.  The Art Director was a very nice lady who spent time looking through all of my designs.   The company had a simplistic card artist at the time who was wildly successful.   She told me that upfront that they might not have room for me.  Some months later I got this response in the mail ... my first rejection letter.Following basic blog rules, I've blanked out the specifics... but it is authentic.

I don’t have 1000 rejections or even a hundred, but there are a quite a few.  If you are reading this and have a idea of your own… expect some.  It’s part of the process.  A rejection can be your reason, even your inspiration to take your idea further.  Listen to the criticisms, critiques and thoughts on your projects. Building from them can add to your chances for success.  In the case of greeting cards, I did contact a few more companies but eventually moved on. 

I’ve always wanted to make things that add value to a person’s day.  Toys are like that.       And so was my idea for the next “Pet Rock.”   

I cut a 3 inch long, 30 degree oval in half, diagonally, in a piece of 1” x 4” dimensional pine.  It was joined in the middle with a wooden dowel and the result would manually twist back and forth from a heart shape to an egg shape.

I applied for a Design Patent in 1983 and got Patent #D 281,339, on November 12, 1985 for what the United States Patent Office called a “Puzzle Toy.”  

The “Heart-Egg” was born!   It was a “symbol of life and love.”   They started out in Lee’s Hallmark shop in Morton, IL which was owned by my aunt and uncle. They ended up in several area stores and one national retailer.  There was the red Sweet Heart-Egg, a Purple Heart-Egg…. awarded for bravery, and the laughable Bear Heart-Egg as well! Folks liked  them.  Kids loved to twist them 'round and 'round.  They were simple, fun and made people smile!

Well … along the way, as sometimes happens, my Heart-Egg design was knocked off and mass produced in plastic by another company.  I discovered one in a gas station on a trip to Wisconsin and felt like that was effectively my end of the road with the product.  The company got around my design patent by adding a tiny compartment to put stuff in. A lesson here to you folks with ideas… get a Utility Patent if at all possible.

In retrospect, I might have been able to stick it out with the "Heart-Egg".   I did have a design patent.  I had sales.  But with a mind full of wacky ideas, I moved on.

The next post will be Friday, 9/29.  Thanks for reading and have a great day!                                          


John Hinnen

Brilliant is right! I have been trying to track him down. Any ideas?

Martin Kiesewetter

What ever happened to the brilliant young engineer that found the focal line of the paraboloid trough???

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