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Beanie Babies

H. Ty Warner, 58
Ty Inc.
$4.5 billion

Source: Suntimes

Named after the first man inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, H. Ty Warner hit a home run with his invention of Beanie Babies.

His Westmont-based Ty Inc. earned $700 million in profits in 1998, the only time the secretive Warner publicly disclosed financial figures for his privately held company. And even then he did so only to prove that he indeed is the largest toy maker, trumping the then-combined $538 million in profits earned by his publicly held rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc.

Little is known about the man who launched the Beanie Baby revolution except that his mom was a homemaker and his dad a jewelry salesman who later became a manufacturer's rep for a plush-toy company. As a teen, Warner attended St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, Wis., and later attended Kalamazoo College.

He worked in a variety of jobs: gas station attendant, grocery-store stock clerk, door-to-door camera salesman, actor and finally toy salesman.

In the early 1990s he came up with the idea that children would embrace a small, inexpensive toy that was soft. Beanie Babies were born, and became an overnight sensation as he "retired" certain lines and replaced them with others.

Kids and parents flocked to quaint shops--he initially distributed them through non-chain gift stores--to get the latest Beanie Baby before it retired.

Today some Beanies trade for thousands of dollars.

The boss reportedly treats his employees well, one year giving them bonuses equal to their yearly salary as well as making limited collectible babies for them.

With his newfound fortune, Warner has branched out into other areas. He purchased two of the landmark Four Seasons hotels, one in New York for $275 million and the other in Santa Barbara, Calif., for $150 million.

In July Ty Warner Park opened in Westmont, thanks to a $3 million donation from Warner to the local park district. The names of 300 of his Beanie Babies are engraved in bricks surrounding a fountain--forever cementing Warner's legacy as the man who brought us Quackers the Duck, Peanuts the Elephant and Bessie the Cow.

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