Cool Things - Chinese Checkers Game
In the 1930s a craze for the board game commonly known as Chinese Checkers swept across America. A Topeka manufacturer took advantage of the nationwide fad by developing his own version of the game.
L. G. Ballard called his Chinese Checkers knock-off the Star Checkers game. This wasn't Ballard's first foray into the novelty business. He had found success marketing products such as towel racks, potlifters, and cat-shaped wooden match holders.
But Star Checkers was perhaps Ballard's biggest success. By the spring of 1938 the Ballard Manufacturing Company of Topeka was shipping out around 15,000 Star Checkers games a month (including 500,000 to 700,000 marbles) to Woolworth stores nationwide, with preparations underway to produce 4,000 sets daily to meet order demands. Ballard employed several workers just to count out the marbles for each game--ten each of six different colors. The need for a faster and more accurate method of parceling out the marbles led Ballard to invent a device that counted and dispensed them automatically.
Chinese checkers was not a new game; it was a simplified variation of a European board game called Halma, which was developed around 1880 and had its own run of popularity in America during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. As with Halma, from two to six players could play Star Checkers. The winner was the first player to move all ten of his marbles from one point of the star to the point directly opposite by means of checkers-like jumps.
The images at bottom right appeared in an article entitled "Topeka Product Enjoying Nation-Wide Sales," which appeared in the Kansas Business Magazine for April, 1938. The top photo shows L.G. Ballard (at back, left) in his office at Ballard Manufacturing. The middle photo is a corner of the manufacturing department. At bottom are some of the company's products, including Star Checkers.
Ballard's Star Checkers game is on display in the main gallery of the Kansas Museum of History.
Entry: Cool Things - Chinese Checkers Game
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: November 1998
Date Modified: November 2012
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.