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Abe Bookman, UC alum, created everlasting Magic 8 Ball

by Deborah Rieselman

Abe Bookman (1898-1993) invented the Magic 8 Ball, a fortune-telling toy currently manufactured by Mattel.

Bookman was originally Abe Buchmann, a first-generation American born of Russian Jewish immigrants who came to the United States around 1895. He briefly attended UC's McMicken College of Liberal Arts (through 1917), but needed to quit to care for his mother and siblings when his father died. Later he returned to the Ohio Mechanics Institute (OMI), which later merged with UC, to earn a degree in 1921. Around 1955, he Anglicized his surname from Buchmann to Bookman.

During World War II, a man named Alfred Carter in Cincinnati had created a tube-like fortune-telling toy based upon a "spirit writing" device used by his mother, a successful clairvoyant and medium named Mary. Max Levinson, a local store owner, wanted to stock the toy and also to produce it for wider distribution. To accomplish the latter, he looked to his brother-in-law, OMI grad Bookman, for advice.

In the end, they had a 7-inch tall tube featuring clear windows on each end, filled with a dark liquid and housing a pair of floating dice with responses on each side. When it was turned over, an answer to a question would be revealed.

In 1944, Carter filed a patent on the device and attached Bookman's name to the patent. Their revised creation was originally sold as "Syco-Seer: The Miracle Home Fortune Teller."

A few years later, the design was modified to save expenses and the toy re-marketed under the name "Syco-Slate: The Pocket Fortune-Teller." In 1946, the two men then formed a novelty company, led by Bookman and named Alabe Crafts, a merger of their names Abe and Alfred.

Before the patent was granted in '48, Carter died, and Bookman again modified the product, this time encasing it in an iridescent crystal ball, which attracted the attention of Chicago's Brunswick Billiards company. In 1950, that company commissioned the black and white ball design that continues today.

The Magic 8 Ball that we have known since then has basically contained a 20-sided polygon inside a hollow plastic ball, floating in a liquid-filled, 3-inch diameter tube. The liquid largely consists of dark blue ink and alcohol. The predictions, affirmative, negative or non-committal, appear on each triangular face of the polygon.

Revisions were made when Ideal Toys bought Alabe Crafts in 1971. Next, Tyco Toys bought the ball in ’87. Mattel owns it today and sells one million units a year (as of 2012).

In 2011, Time magazine named it one of the 100 All-Time greatest toys.

Need we say more? Sources point to no.

LINK: Read about other UC alumni toy-makers.