August 11, 1896|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||February 5, 1982
White Plains, New York
|Resting place||Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx|
Louis Marx (August 11, 1896 – February 5, 1982) was an American toy maker and businessman whose company, Louis Marx and Company, was the largest toy company in the world in the 1950s. Marx was described as an intense, hard-driving, and energetic man, who "[T]alks, walks, and gestures tirelessly, like one of his own wound-up toys."
Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Austrian Jewish parents, Marx graduated high school at age 15 and started his career working for Ferdinand Strauss, a manufacturer of mechanical toys. By 1916, Marx was managing Strauss' plant in East Rutherford, New Jersey. But within a year, Marx was fired by Strauss' board of directors over a disagreement about sales practices.
Marx then entered the United States Army as a private and attained the rank of sergeant before returning to civilian life in 1918. Marx's passion for the Army was reflected throughout his life; most of Marx's military toys represented Army equipment, and Marx would later make a practice of befriending generals and naming his sons after them.
In 1919 Marx and his brother David incorporated, founding the company that bore his name. Initially working as a middle man, Marx was soon able to purchase tooling to manufacture toys himself. When Strauss fell on hard financial times, Marx was able to buy the dies for two Strauss toys and turn them into best-sellers. By age 26, three years after founding his company, Marx was a millionaire.
By utilizing techniques of mass production and reusing old designs as much as possible – Marx utilized some of his toy train tooling developed in the early 1930s until 1972 – Marx was able to sell a broad line of inexpensive toys. All US-made toy trains would come from a plant in Girard, Pennsylvania, which produced millions of lithographed tin, and plastic toy trains.
By 1951, the Marx company had 12 factories worldwide, and for much of the 1950s it was the largest toy manufacturer in the world, with much of the success coming from Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog sales and the many themed playsets available. As World War II drew to a close, Marx had toured Europe and acted as a consultant on how toy manufacturing could aid reconstruction efforts. Marx used the contacts he made in this manner to forge partnerships and open factories in Europe and Japan. Marx was featured on the cover of Time magazine on December 12, 1955, with his portrait eclipsing an image of Santa Claus, while examples of his toys swirl in the background.
Marx's first wife, René, died in 1944 of breast cancer at age 37. His second wife, Idella Ruth Blackadder (b. 1924), was nearly 28 years his junior.
Marx's daughter, Patricia, was born in 1938. She went on to become an activist author, and the second wife of Daniel Ellsberg, assisting him in the release of the Pentagon Papers. Louis Marx, a strident anti-Communist and supporter of Richard Nixon, regarded Ellsberg as a traitor afterwards. Eldest child, Barbara Marx Hubbard (1929–), is a New Age futurist who is involved in helping humans make an evolutionary shift to a higher and better consciousness.
Marx's son, Louis Marx Junior, is a venture capitalist, and a philanthropist who has contributed to the arts, education and medicine. One such example is the Louis Marx Center for Children and Families of New York.
The industrialist retired in 1972, selling his company to Quaker Oats for $54 million. Marx was 76 years old and his company had been declining. The drop off has been blamed variously on the company's slowness to develop electronic toys and on Marx's unwillingness to employ salesmen for fear of someone else repeating his early experience with Strauss.
The original house of the Marx estate stood on Gatehouse Road in Scarsdale, New York. Even while remaining empty and neglected for many years, its grandeur was breathtaking. The red brick, white-pillared Georgian-style mansion was built in 1904 and had nine fireplaces and 14 baths. It had a swimming pool, tennis court, paddle court and a four-car garage with a seven-room caretaker's cottage above it. A chainlink fence, to prevent Marx’s 13 dogs from straying, enclosed the entire compound. The mansion appeared to be a vestige of a gone by era. Before the subdivision of the property in the 1980s, the home had a Weaver Street address and could be viewed through the open lawn from the street. The property is surrounded by 29 contemporary homes, on uniform lots, which hides it from view.
The property was owned by the legendary Louis Marx, sometimes called the Toy King of America, who died in 1982 at the age of 85. He had nine children, whom he named after famous friends who were named as godparents to the children: Emmett Dwight, for Gen. Emmett O'Donnell and President Eisenhower; Spencer Bedell, for Gen. Walter Bedell Smith; Bradley Marshall, for Gen. Omar N. Bradley and Gen. George C. Marshall; Curtis Gruenther, for Gen. Curtis E. LeMay and Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther, and Hunter Bernhard, for Gen. Hunter Harris and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.
Marx is as legendary as his estate. A 1955 article in Time magazine describes his arrival at a soiree at the 21 Club in Manhattan; “A roly-poly, melon-bald little man with the berry-bright eyes and beneficent smile of St. Nick touching down on a familiar rooftop. Louis Marx, America's toy king and cafe-society Santa, was arriving at his favorite workshop. With his beautiful blonde wife Idella, who looks the way sleigh bells sound, 59-year-old Lou Marx toddled regally toward a table in the center of the downstairs room. The table is always reserved for Millionaire Marx by the divine right of toy kings, and the fact that he has never been known to let anyone else pay the check. “
And city friends were not the only ones to benefit from his generosity. Each Halloween from 1940 to 1980, Marx distributed hundreds of toys to neighborhood children who came to trick or treat. He built a multi-million dollar toy company and was free-handed with his gifts.
Upon Marx’s death, Anthony Scarcella, a New Rochelle developer, bought the estate and received approval to subdivide it and build 29 homes. He built the development, and in 1985 he sold the original home on 1.75 acres (7,100 m2) to Alexander Raydon, who kept it until October 2007. When Raydon died, Scarcella re-purchased the house, for $2,500,000, which was more than the sale price of the entire estate in 1982. Scarcella then attempted to gain approval to tear it down and build three more new homes on the property. However, this time he received far more resisitance from the Board of Architectural Review and ultimately the Scarsdale Board of Trustees. He was denied a demolition permit to tear down the home because it was found to be a structure of substantial historic importance. The BAR found that the mansion met three of the four preservation criteria and that its demolition would be detrimental to the public interest.  Ultimately, on February 14, 2012, Anthony Scarcella was granted a permit to demolish the estate. As of fall 2012, the demolition has been completed and the mansion no longer stands.
- Time Magazine article 1955
- Wells, Tom (2001). Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg. Palgrave. ISBN 0-312-17719-4
- Matzke, Eric (1985) Greenberg's Guide to Marx Trains, 2nd Edition. Greenberg Publishing Company, 1985. ISBN 0-89778-026-4.
- Wells, Tom (2001). Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg. Palgrave. ISBN 0-312-17719-4.
- Schievelbein, D (2007) "MarX Trains and Toys Guide : The Toy King Louis Marx". eBay Guide