He Didn't Invent Toys, but He's the Genius We Can Thank for Them

Inc. profiles Al Kahn
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 20, 2021 7:59 AM CST
You 'Owe Part of Your Childhood Happiness' to This Man
You know the Pokemon character Pikachu thanks to Al Kahn.   (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Al Kahn. "You surely do not know his name, but you likely owe part of your childhood happiness to him," writes Scott Eden, without hyperbole, in a profile of the 74-year-old for Inc. Kahn is not a toy inventor, but he's the man responsible for seeking the next great toy from all corners of the planet—from the Babyland General Hospital, in Cleveland, Georgia, in 1982 to the Pocket Monsters sweeping Tokyo in 1997. You'll more familiarly know those toys as Cabbage Patch Kids and Pokémon, and, yes, Kahn is the one who brought them to the US masses. Eden details his work history, which started as a 22-year-old buyer trainee for the B. Gertz & Co. department store in Queens and culminated in his own toy licensing company, 4Kids Entertainment.

His idea with that company was to produce kids' TV shows that essentially served a "22-minute commercials," he explained, and he had a deal with Nintendo to facilitate that. It was while he was on one of his regular trips to Tokyo that he saw kids playing Pocket Monsters, which Nintendo had a stake in. Nintendo didn't think it would register with US audiences. Kahn persisted, and ultimately forked over what he calls a "s---load of money" for the time: $2.5 million. But part of Kahn's genius lay in the tweaks he would make. While it's not crystal clear who can take credit for the change to "Pokémon," Eden writes that Kahn wiped the smoking, drinking, and topless women for the accompanying TV show to ready it for US kids, rechristened characters with American names like Ash Ketchum, engaged the composer who wrote the theme song, and came up with the phrase "Gotta Catch 'Em All." (Read the full story, which details a wild trip he once took to meet with Nintendo's president.)

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