FUN-SIZE: A 14-foot-tall yellow door at Big Monster Toys greets passersby.
Photography by Matthew Gilson

At Chicago’s Big Monster Toys, work and play are one and the same.

It can be tough getting a foot in the door of any company — let alone a door that’s 14 feet tall and guarded by a toothy, furry purple monster. Then again, this isn’t just any company: It’s Chicago’s Big Monster Toys (BMT), the world’s largest independent toy-design firm.

$22 Billion
Annual U.S. toy sales

The amount of inventory that the U.S. toy industry sells every year.

Over the past 25 years, Big Monster’s inventors have created hundreds of toys that have graced store shelves and holiday wish lists. They’ve created Fashion Polly Pocket (a $1 billion toy line), blitzed the game market with the best-selling Uno Attack! (16.1 million units sold and counting) and created the Criss Cross Crash racetrack that has sold like hot cakes for Hot Wheels for years.

Every year, the $22 billion U.S. toy industry turns over 80 percent of its products. And so, every year, BMT’s staff of 25 or so inventors, designers, engineers, sculptors, artists and craftspeople starts from scratch, dreaming up hundreds of new toys to win over manufacturers and kids alike.

“Being a toy inventor is a lot harder than you can ever imagine,” says Don Rosenwinkel, president and CEO of BMT. “But it’s also an amazingly gratifying job. There’s nothing cooler than walking down the aisle of a Toys R Us and seeing the brand-new toy you just did.”

BMT flies under the public’s radar; its name doesn’t appear on any packaging. But those in the toy industry — or who aspire to be — respect and know the firm well. BMT’s five original partners and several other employees all earned their stripes at Marvin Glass and Associates, the famed Chicago toy-design firm behind Lite-Brite, Operation and other legendary playthings. “Marvin invented the idea of being a professional toy inventor,” Rosenwinkel says. “He didn’t sell things as a one-off for profit; he sold it for royalties. That changed the whole industry, because he had an ongoing revenue stream that allowed him to grow his business.”