Despite being an iconic toy, the story of Colorforms actually began in a bathroom!
When art students Harry and Patricia Kislevitz decided to redecorate their home they were faced with a problem… the price of paint was too high. They quickly began searching for a colorful solution to their bland walls. In 1951 they found their answer: a roll of thin-flexible vinyl. The colorful vinyl proved to be an attractive fix for the undecorated walls, but Harry and Patricia realized there was even more artistic opportunity hidden in the vinyl; they began cutting the vinyl into various shapes to create beautiful art pieces on the walls of their bathroom. Harry enjoyed creating abstract modern-art pieces, while Patricia focused on more realistic designs like boats sailing on a beautiful blue ocean.
However, the Kislevitzes assumed no one else would find any interest in sticking the vinyl pieces together. They were content with simply entertaining themselves. But they did recognize how much fun could be had with the vinyl, so they encouraged house guests to join the fun. Hoping guests would add to their creations, the Kislevitz placed some extra vinyl and a pair of scissors in the bathroom. When their friends became entranced with the myriad of colorful shapes and artistic possibilities, Harry and Patricia knew they were onto something. With some more design and development, Colorforms was born!
The first Colorforms set was hand-cut by the Kislevitz themselves. A thimble, a bottle, and a medicine container top were just some of the shapes used to make that very first set. It was designed by Patricia, and is now part of the permanent collection at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art. Fans can still purchase the Original Classic Colorforms Set, a reproduction of the set that started it all!
Although Colorforms originally targeted artists and adults, the product surprisingly became popular with children. Then Colorforms exploded in popularity and orders were rushing in. Operation began to quickly outgrow the Kislevitzes’ tiny apartment, prompting an exciting move to a factory in New Jersey. With bigger space and more production Colorforms were able to grow into a national phenomenon.
Soon after, a new type of Colorforms set would be introduced. In 1957, the spinach-eating Popeye became one of the first ever licensed characters to be featured in a toy. Today kids can play with their favorite modern characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, Barbie and PAW Patrol, as well as classics like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Snoopy.
Even after nearly 70 years, Colorforms continues to be extremely influential in the toy industry. In 2020, the late Harry Kislevitz was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame because of the innovative practices he employed with Colorforms. Some of these include the use of licensed characters in marketing and combing learning with play to make a fun educational product; two major themes in the current toy industry.
With over 1 billion sets sold, Colorforms have allowed generations of artists, children, and adults to stretch their creative muscles and easily create beautiful works of vinyl art. But it wouldn’t have happened if Harry and Patricia Kislevitz hadn’t decided to redecorate their bathroom walls.