Life, Liquid & Death
The evolution of the Trademark: Mr. Bubbles... Turtle, Robot, Sailor. Product to BRAND.
Ok. Many of you may not have fond memories of the Mr. Bubbles line of toys or the magic liquid that made them all work.
You might not even know that Mr. Bubbles' solution was THE Secret Ingredient of many bubblers before the early 2000s when lubes, polymers, celluloses and other chemicals came into play. Mixing Dawn dish detergent with water and a bunch of Mr. B made bubbles brilliant enough to build a career on.
When Mr. Bubbles dropped out of stores and eventually became totally unavailable, I know of at least one bubble pro who gave up because his magic was gone and finding a suitable replacement proved too difficult. Smart bubblers had stockpiled the precious Mr. B for a rainy day & stockpiles kept them afloat for years, right up to the day when alternatives like FY Blue (now unavailable) and eventually Uncle Bubble came along. Homebrews also grew far more sophisticated in this time so outdoor Giant bubblers moved in that direction to replace their Mr. B secret ingredient.
And yet, the story of Mr. Bubbles is an interesting one and mostly unknown to even those bubblers who worked in the heyday of Mr. Bubbles reign.
So, here are some of my favorite highlights of that story. Hope you enjoy them.
"MR. BUBBLES" starts life as a Turtle shaped toy, not the name of a bubble liquid.
NORMAN A GREENE in November of 1957 filed for US Patent of this animated bubble making toy. The patent was granted in September of 1958 as US2,853,829.
MORRIS PLASTICS first used the MR. BUBBLES (Turtle) name in commerce on or about January 25, 1957. Although MORRIS encouraged GREENE to get a patent for their protection. . . MORRIS never registered the MR. BUBBLES name with the trademark office. I do believe MORRIS eventually bought all rights to Mr. GREENS patent.
Mr. BUBBLES was a squeeze toy, squeeze its shell and the turtle's head rises up revealing a bubble wand (freshly dipped in a container under its chin), keep squeezing and an airflow is directed at the wand to blow the bubbles. Release pressure and the head falls to re-dip the wand.
Ownership of the Toy Turtle, Patent & Manufacturing Rights passed from company to company in mergers and acquisition deals.
Timeline of ownership, the best I can do: 1957 MORRIS PLASTICS > ??? > NORSTAR, INC. > MINER INDUSTRIES > CHEMTOY CORPORATION March 30, 1972 > STROMBECKER/TOOTSIETOY 1979ish > PROCESSED PLASTIC COMPANY 2004 (Reportedly liquidated for $600k in bankruptcy) > J. LLOYD INTERNATIONAL INC. 2005 > WAI HAR YIP (individual) 2009 > RICHROY DEVELOPMENT LIMITED (HK) 2009 > MR. BUBBLES TRADEMARK CANCELED AFTER LITIGATION 2015. For more about that see: DEATH
1972 Robot Product
The Turtle ends its association with Mr. Bubbles name.
This turtle design (patent long since expired) lives on as a retro toy, manufactured by different companies and sold under different names such as Tommy Turtle.
CHEMTOY CORPORATION (Original name: CHEMICAL SUNDRIES a subsidiary of BELMONT LABS & maker of the amazing Wonder Bubbles/1945 liquid and toys) bought Mr. Bubbles The Turtle, Patent rights and Parent Company - MINER INDUSTRIES.
In 1973 when Chemtoy first filed for the MR. BUBBLES trademark I do NOT believe they intended to build a brand around the name.
In fact, I believe Chemtoy planned to rock the toy industry, replacing the Turtle with a new Robot design while keeping the well known Mr. Bubbles name. THE NEW MR. BUBBLES -- A pop up ROBOT that you had to blow at to make the bubbles.
Note: There was a long confused battle in the Patent Commission between 1973 and 1976 over who had the right to ownership of the MR. BUBBLES Trademark: HOT ITEMS of NJ claimed ownership. Chemtoy prevailed in 1976.
1980s Mr. Bubbles becomes a Sailor & Brand line.
In the early 1980s Tootsietoy/Strombecker (purchased Chemtoy in 1979) made plans to maximize their acquired trademark, Mr. BUBBLES, and build a full line of bubble toy products under the MR. BUBBLES brand.
The heart of the brand was the bubble liquid now also called MR. BUBBLES. The brand's mascot? A bubble-headed, sailor hat wearing guy.
Chemtoy's 1974 (copyright 1973) product catalogue: showing the NEW MR. BUBBLES automatic bubble blowing robot.
Mr. Bubbles Liquid
Q: So, did Strombecker really ship Chicago's Lake Michigan water to China to make bubble solution there?
A: Check out the May 22, 1992 Chicago Tribune article called Bubble Vision (the more you know the cleaner things become) by Barbara Mahany.
It was a far better feature piece than is usual. The writer first went deeper into the science of soap films then takes us on a tour of Strombecker's Chicago bubble bottling plant.
There we meet Luis Garcia, "night mixer for the last two years". His job is to make twenty 500 gallon batches of Mr. Bubbles' juice per shift.
From him we learn the only ingredient that he can disclose is Lake Michigan water, which is pumped into the tanks. (Safe to assume it's filtered first.)
Finally there's an anecdote that goes like this:
"Myron B. Shure, Strombecker's kidlike 66-year-old chairman and grandson of company founder Nathan Shure, a legendary wholesaler of turn-of-the-century Chicago, says his company is so sold on Chicago water it ships it in huge vats to its factory in China, where it assembles and fills some of its more labor- intensive bubble toys."
Believe it... Or not.
Now I wonder, is Mr. Shure saying they ship water and mix it into bubble juice in China or is he saying they like Chicago water so much, they ship bubble juice prepared in Chicago over to China?
Louis Pearl had this to say on Facebook about those days in the early 1990s, "The big boxes, TRU, WalMart, etc., insisted that any bubble toys imported from China would have Mr. B in them as they did not trust Chinese bubble solution... The water in China was bad. I personally bought container-loads of Mr. B with y own label, and shipped them to China. Later, the Chinese developed filters that cleaned up the problem, opening the market to Chinese product... hence then end of Mr. B.?"
About whether water was shipped, Richard Faverty replied in the same message string, "That's funny. Strombecker shipped container loads of Chicago water to China where they then mixed the bubble solution, bottled it, packaged it and sent it back to Chicago for distribution. This was explained to me by Dick Shure in 1987 when we made across licensing deal between Professor Bubbles and Mr. Bubbles when they decided to rebrand Wonder Bubbles as Mr. Bubbles. It was complicated, a little, because the marketing of both of our names had be to quite narrow so as not to infringe upon the Mr. Bubbles bath soap. I wonder if you were shipping water to China for a second time."
My best guess?
Based on Mr. Bubbles brand packaging... they shipped prepared solution to China. Why do I think that? Wonder and Mr. Bubbles brand products sold in America were mostly printed and packaged in the USA... and the liquid was made in the USA. They produced the plastic toy in China, Hong Kong.
And I doubt they would trust overseas plants to mix the liquid correctly, even if they had Chicago water. I also doubt Strombecker would have trusted foreign workers to keep the FORMULA of Mr. B safely out of competitor's hands and factories.
Other Fun Stuff To Think About...
An unimaginable mashup! Funrise & Mr. B? I had no idea...
Funrise (founder of Gazillion brand) must have partnered with Mr. Bubbles/Tootsietoy back in their earliest years, circa 1990.
The interesting thing is this: Arnie Rubin founded Funrise after he left his gig (1987) at Imperial (Miracle Bubbles), a company he co-founded.
But maybe it is not too surprising that Mr. Rubin chose Mr. B for Funrise (pre Gazillion) to hook up with...
Mr. Rubin's first job in high school was unloading railroad boxcars full of Chemtoy (bought by Tootsietoy/Strombecker) bubble bottles. He worked his way up at Chemtoy to become a Mixer (the person who blends the bubble juice).
Some may think it is a shame that Funrise did not remain a partner of Mr. B. & instead created their own Gazillion brand. If they stayed together, Mr. B/Tootsietoy/Strombecker might not have started to fall apart in the early 200os.
For more about Mr. Rubin's interesting bubble career: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-himi-rubin-20150510-story.html
The biological hazards of badly produced bubble solutions first appeared in print in 1973.
Chemtoy was mentioned in the article below, first for bacteriological content and then for properly redesigning their production process.
The article comes from the Camden Post (NJ), March 1, 1973.
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
Mr. Bubble KILLED MR. BUBBLES.
(No, I'm not kidding.)
How and Why did MR. BUBBLES® Die? What happened to that venerable trademark of a beloved bubble toy brand?
I spent a night researching the history of MR. BUBBLES trademark and I'm pleased to report the story is stranger and more contentious than you might expect. Here are the high points:
The Mr. Bubbles trademark was born (first registered July 20, 1976) after years of difficult labor and debate over who the father really was.
Remember that Mr. Bubbles Turtle toy (with his Bazoo) invented in '57? Between '57 and 1973 (when Chemtoy/Strombecker filed for registration) the toy was owned by at least 3 different companies and none of them thought to register the words Mr. Bubbles as a trademark. Eventually the last company in the chain of ownership was Chemtoy... soon to be bought by Strombecker/Tootsietoy.
Still with me?
Imagine Strombecker's surprise when a short time after filing with the trademark office on March 12, 1973 to register "Mr. Bubbles"... they are notified by the trademark office that another company already filed for the SAME MARK a year earlier (Feb. 8, 1972). That company was HOT ITEMS INC., Newark NJ.
I don't imagine Strombecker was surprised at all. Here's why:
In subsequent filings with the Trademark commissioner in the fight to resolve this conflict, a lot of details shed light on what was really going on. (Flashback.)
Yes, HOT ITEMS filed Feb. 8, 1972 for the Mr. Bubbles trademark. Did they really have a claim to the historical use of "Mr. Bubbles"? I guess they thought so. Maybe they actually did own rights but would be losing them a few weeks after filing. (But more on that later.)
What happened next was a HUGE lawyerly mistake.
On January 30, 1973 HOT ITEM's lawyer sent a letter to CHEMTOY CORP. claiming HI's ownership of the MR. B' trademark (although the trademark office had not finished reviewing their application, let alone grant and publish the mark with the HOT ITEMS name on it).
This lawyer's letter also demanded that CHEMTOY stop INFRINGING on their (HI's) trademark.
If only HI's lawyer waited a few more months for their trademark application to be granted before sending the threatening letter to CHEMTOY, things might have ended differently. But they didn't, and so...
Thus notified, CHEMTOY responded by rushing their own application for the same mark to the Trademark office a month and a half later. (3.12.1973)
7 days after that CHEMTOY filed a petition to the commissioner of Patents DC asking them to declare "Interference" on HOT ITEM's 1972 application. The grounds to justify a Petition of Interference? Check this out, a paragraph pulled from the petition:
"On March 30, 1972 [Note: remember HOT ITEMS applied on Feb. 8, 1972] CHEMTOY CORPORATION purchased all right, title and interest in and to the trademark MR. BUBBLES for a bubble making toy, from MINER INDUSTRIES, INC. who had succeeded to all right, title and interest in and to said mark owned by NORSTAR, INC., the predecessor of which, on information and belief, had adopted and used said mark from about the month of January, 1957. A copy of the said agreement of sale is attached hereto as Petitioner's Exhibit A."
That's interesting because in their Feb. 1972 application HOT ITEMS INC claimed their first day of use of "Mr. Bubbles" was November 15, 1971... and by the company's PREDECESSORS since January 25, 1957
So on Feb 8 1972 did HOT TOYS have ownership and claim to MR. BUBBLES?
Did CHEMTOY purchase all rights to MR. BUBBLES on March 30, 1972?
I don't know. All I can say is that a lot of letters flew back and forth between DC, NJ & IL for the next years. Over time it looks like HOT ITEMS finally realized they would not win the battle and stopped replying to letters from DC.
HI's lack of correspondence put all the positive momentum behind CHEMTOY/STROMBECKER's application which was finally granted on July 20, 1976. Mr. Bubbles Birthday.
• Strombecker/Tootsie Toy held the Trademark for MR. BUBBLES until October 28, 2004 when rights were sold with everything else to PROCESSED PLASTIC in a bankruptcy sale.
• PROCESSED PLASTIC conveyed the mark to J. LLOYD INTERNATIONAL INC on June 6, 2005.
• J. LLOYD sold to MR. BUBBLES mark (and all the other property associated with the Mr. Bubbles brand I believe) to Mr. Wai Har Yip an individual living in CA on Dec. 30. 2008. All classes - US and International registrations - of the trademark are sold.
Interesting to note that as part of the sale agreement J. LLOYD negotiated the use of the Trademark MR. BUBBLES for gum, candy and other confectionery goods in the US.
• On March 20, 2009 Mr. Yip conveys the trademark (and everything else I'm sure) to RICHROY DEVELOPMENT LIMITED. Museum Rd. Hong Kong.
RICHROY for some reason just sits on the Trademark and Mr. Bubbles brand, not doing anything with it in the USA. Although I saw some Mr. Bubbles branded toy products being sold in the EU by RICHROY for a short time.
Not using the trademark in the USA from 2009-2014 was a BIG MISTAKE.
• On Feb 17, 2014 THE VILLAGE COMPANY, bubble bath manufacturer and owner of the trademark MR. BUBBLE files a PETITION TO CANCEL the Mr. Bubbles trademark.
VILLAGE CO. claims harm from confusion in the marketplace, a limited ability to expand its own product base, a few other things and mainly this: VILLAGE COMPANY "has tried repeatedly, without success, to find Registrant [RICHROY] or evidence of use of its mark. Upon information and belief, Registrant has abandoned the mark in Registration No. 1,044,496 with NO INTENT TO RESUME USE OF THE MARK."
A brief battle between the two companies ensued. Ultimately RICHROY agreed to settle things by CANCELING its MR. BUBBLES Trademark. A VOLUNTARY SURRENDER OF REGISTRATION FOR CANCELLATION was signed on November 13, 2014.
MR. BUBBLES was pronounced DEAD, death by cancellation, on March 9, 2015.
Long Live Mr. Bubbles.
I've always assumed MR. BUBBLE (the bubble bath folks) would rather MR. BUBBLES (the bubble toy folks) never have been granted a trademark in the first place, but those are the rules. It is OK to have a similar mark if it applies to a different class of product.
In this case MR. BUBBLE registered as selling these Goods and Services: BUBBLE BLOWING TOYS AND BUBBLE FORMING FLUID INTENDED PRIMARILY FOR CHILDREN'S USE.
Is that a different enough product category to give us hope that one day the MR. BUBBLES mark will rise again?
I don't think so. Note: This year (2016) for the first time I saw MR. BUBBLE (no "S") branded bubble toys at the toy store. Not the same as Mr. Bubbles.