Processed Plastics by Dave Hipp

Processed Plastic was founded in February, 1948 by Ross Bergman, Richard Simms, and Roy Raymond. Ross was born in Pike County, Illinois on a farm outside of Hannibal. He attended Illinois College in Jacksonville, became a teacher, and moved to Aurora to teach science and chemistry and coach football in 1933. There, he met his wife Mary. He became principal of Aurora West in 1940. As a principal with a salary of $2,600 per year and two young boys in the family, Ross decided to go into business and in 1945 became a sales manager for Paul Saunders, who produced a wide variety of products including toys at his metal stamping company. By 1948, Ross decided to go into business for himself to manufacture a plastic dump truck.

The first location was 500 Rathbone Ave. in Aurora. Over the years, the product line was expanded to larger trucks, racing cars, tanks, and rockets—all a niche market sold directly, primarily to Woolworth and Kresges. The growth in the business necessitated a major capital expansion which was concluded in 1961 with a modern 20,000 square foot factory along Aucott Road in Montgomery. For the next four years, an additional 20,000 square feet was added to the plant in Montgomery, and all operations were consolidated there. The key technology in the plastic toy market was the conversion to polyethelene in the mid-1950’s. This change in materials made plastic toys extremely durable and not subject to breakage inherent in the prior plastics.

Ross’ sons, Bob and Dave, entered the business in the early 1960’s. Bob became President in 1961, and Dave became President of Moldrite in 1962. Moldrite would produce the plastic parts for Processed Plastic. In 1964, they purchased the Tim-Mee toy company from Anchor Brush, owned by John Baumgartner, whose firm made the toys as a sideline to their primary business of tooth brushes and mascara brushes. As a result of this purchase, Processed Plastic became the largest U.S. manufacturer of high volume plastic dinosaurs, farm animals, and toy soldiers.

The two most serious problems the industry faced were foreign competition from China and Hong Kong in the early 1970’s and the OPEC crisis in 1974. Plastics and polyethelene were oil based and the OPEC crisis caused material shortages and prices of raw materials to quintuple in a short period of time. There was no choice but to drop products, redesign molds, retrench, raise prices and offer only those products where there was sufficient material to produce. Lower volume and high interest rates put financial pressure on the company in the early 1980’s, which required a change in banking relationships to stay afloat.

Recovery came about for Processed, but not for others in the industry, and Processed was able to purchase the assets of Superior Toy and their gumball bank in 1991. Bob Bergman retired from day-to-day management in 1993, and Dave became President. Processed had reached $50,000,000 in sales and was one of few U.S. toy manufacturers still producing in the U.S. Its ability to react quickly to the needs of major merchandisers like WalMart was the niche that Far East competitors could not then meet. However, Processed Plastics finally succumbed to Chinese competition and closed its doors in 2005.

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