Carl Adam: The Little-Known Inventor of A Lot of Well-Known Toys
Images: Jurgen and Marianne Cieslik
Rare luck. While researching our book Ein Jahrhundert Blechspielzeug: Ein Jahrhundert E.P. Lehmann (Lehmann Toys, the History of E. P. Lehmann 1881-1981), we had a chance meeting with Artur Adam, the son of Carl Adam, in August 1980. Artur was living in modest circumstances in Frankfurt am Main where we met in his apartment and talked about his father. From this initial contact a fruitful and cordial acquaintance developed. Adam was aware of the importance of his father in the development of the early tin toy industry and supported us in our research by providing biographical information and family documents. He was a great help with our description of his father's business. The research, however, on the Minkowski's, who supported Carl Adam in his endeavors, took us several months.

Carl Adam was born on January 20, 1864 in Osterode, East Prussia, the son of the painter Carl Adam. After attending high school, he devoted himself to technical studies and an apprenticeship as a watchmaker in Koenigsberg (today named Kaliningrad). As early as 1887, at the age of 23, he registered his first patent (along with his brother Richard): DRP 41 882 "striking and repeater mechanisms for watches" (note: a milestone in the field of watch development). How he discovered his love for toys remained his secret, as apparently no one ever asked him. In any case, in 1893 he founded a tin toys factory under the name "First East Prussian Patent Toy Factory of Koenigsberg, owner Carl Adam." At the same time, he registered his trademark "Dancer."

Koenigsberg businessman Lewin Minkowski and his son, Max, who already ran their own tin toys factory among their many other business ventures, were financial supporters of Carl. Close associates of Carl were a member of his technical staff, Hugo Berlepsch, and foreman Jean Schmidt (both of whom were already independently involved in business in Nuremberg).

Carl Adam was a modest inventor who did not seek the limelight. Among his idiosyncrasies was his reluctance to register patents and utility models under his name alone (he would sometimes list his brother as second inventor). Some patents, however, he published under the name of another donor (Jean Schmidt of Koenigsberg). Adam's son, Artur, even claims that his father was the inventor of the popular "Climbing Monkey" by Lehmann (EPL 385) and had sold this patent to an American.

Carl Adam was a brilliant inventor but, as it turned out, a lousy businessman. Despite the initial successes and even with good sales abroad, the profits were not sufficient for a financially secure life for his family. According to Artur Adam, "My father's management of the company gradually deteriorated." Carl Adam repaid the loans he received from donors for whom he had not registered patents, including Lewin Minkowski. Carl wanted to close the small business as he saw no chance for further success. Minkowski, who wanted to continue to use the inventive potential of Carl, offered him a permanent position as a director in his factory, but Carl rejected the offer. In 1897, Minkowski ended his financial support and the business was closed down. The entire factory‰ÛÓstock, patents, and tools‰ÛÓnow became the tin toys factory of Lewin Minkowski & Sohn, Koenigsberg.

Carl Adam completely withdrew from the toy business and opened a watch and gold shop in Koenigsberg. Some of his later inventions were an Artificial Bait with Underwater Lighting (in this he was influenced by his neighbor Georg Schmidt, the angler) and a Steam Engine with Boiler Without Special Expansion Control. He died after a long illness on February 29, 1916 at the age of 52. Carl Adam left behind his wife, Charlotte, n̩e Thiel, whom he had met in his Konigsberg factory, and five children (three daughters and two sons). After expulsion by the Russian army in 1945 the family moved to the Frankfurt area.

Lewin Minkowski & Sohn
Lewin Minkowski was in the rags export business as well as in grain trading. In order to give his eldest son Max more independence, he started a toy factory under the name "Minkowski & Sohn" at Fleichbankenstrasse 19 in what was then Koenigsberg, probably in the early 1890s. A first mention of this toy production is found in 1895 in a trade magazine ad submitted by Max Minkowski. (See top image.)

"Our universally well-known and popular jumping jack figures, executed in fine chromolithography on tinplate, which were introduced in all major cities at home and abroad with great success, retailing for 10 pfennigs; we have also introduced 5 new, impressive, humorous designs. The figures were created according to the designs of famous artists and are available to wholesalers and exporters with free sample shipments with 10 designs." In 1897, when father Lewin and son Max took over the tin toys factory of Carl Adam, it was deeply in debt. Further progress of this toy factory is documented by the following advertisement. (See top, bottom Image.)

"We bring to the upcoming Leipzig Fair the following four sensational novelties: Automatic Swing with a very simple mechanism, rocks rhythmically for a long time. Durable and clean. Marie and Mordy: a comical circus scene. A poodle balanced on its hind legs on a rolling ball leaps toward a somersaulting trapeze artist. Ching-Chung, the Musician: plays many songs and operatic pieces by means of exchangeable discs. Caesar: the Brave Leonberger [a breed of dog]. Size 17 x 12 cm [approx. 6-3/4" x 4-3/4" ]. In addition we bring two of our newest crowd-drawing toys: beetles moving along on their own feet while lively flapping their wings and jumping jacks of sheet metal in several designs."

Only a year later in 1898 the entire factory of Lewin Minkowski & Sohn, including stock, patents, materials, and customer lists, was sold for 15,600 marks to Ernst Paul Lehmann in Brandenburg. In Lehmann's inventory book, he writes that "humorous jumping-jacks made of tinplate, grasshoppers, fleas, goats and figures such as lyre men, cobblers and other" were part of the stock. The purchase included the inventions not yet patented by Carl Adam, which Ernst Paul Lehmann filed under his own name at the German Patent Office.

Some More about the Minkowski Family
Lewin Minkowski was born in Kaunas, Russia, and in 1872 moved to Prussian Koenigsberg with his wife Rachel (n̩e Taubmann) with their three sons. His father was the grain merchant Baruch Minkowski. They left Russia because of the anti-semitism that existed there and the restrictions imposed on Jews by the Tsarist Empire; his eldest son Max (Maximilian) was not even allowed to attend high school. Max joined the family business in 1878 in Konigsberg. Although not as brilliant a businessman as his father, he was nonetheless, able to protect his father's company against failure. He became a French consul in Koenigsberg and was known for his important collection of Gdansk furniture, oriental rugs, and French art treasures. Max died childless a few years after the First World War. One of his gifted brothers, Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909), was the greatest mathematician of his time and, among other things, a professor in Zurich; his most famous student was Albert Einstein, whom he taught the theoretical foundations that led to the theory of relativity. When Minkowski heard about the sensation of Einstein's theory of relativity, he smiled and said: "Oh, Einstein? The truant, always missing the lectures, would have not have expected so much." Another brother, Oskar Minkowski, (1858-1931) was an assistant physician at the medical clinic in Konigsberg. He discovered the function of the pancreas in the control of blood sugar and thus advanced the fight against diabetes.

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