Rubber Duckie History: Dietrich Rempel, Titan in Toys
Imagine growing up in an ideal childhood, only to have it destroyed by a revolution in your early teens, losing your parents, and felling with your brother disguising to escape to safety thousands of miles away. And then, working yourself up to become a talented sculptor and inventor in your new home country, and recreating that childhood through rubber toys, and a successful toy company. That is story of Deitrich Gustav (Dick or DG) the “Titan in Toys.”
The American Dream
Born in 1904 Russia to an idyllic life on his family’s estate, DG’s world was turned on its head by the Bolshevik Revolution when he was in his teens. Arriving in the United Sates in 1923, penniless, he finished high school in two years while learning English and completed college in three. He worked his way up through a variety of jobs to end up at a rubber plant in Barberton, Ohio where he eventually became Development Engineer at Sun Rubber Company, maker of rubber toys including dolls, cars, and rubber ducks.
In 1946 DG launched his own rubber toy making company, Rempel Manufacturing. Having studied sculpture in college he modeled the toys himself from clay and manufactured them with his patented roto-cast process.
Inventor Dietrich Rempel
For this process, he first made dies or master molds from the clay models, and then plaster producton molds cast from the dies. Rubber was poured into the plaster mold and while it was rotated in two sirections the plaster absorbed the water in the latex. The resulting rubber coating on the inside of the molds formed the toy. The molded toys were then cured for several hours in gas ovens.
The system did away with the steam and pressure molds, rubber compounding machinery and expensive steel molds of traditional rubber manufacturing. This reduced costs and production time and offered great flexibility in the design process. Dietrich revised his characters many time!
Little Folks from Sunnyslope
The cast of characters in DG’s menagerie originally included three animals: Perky the dog, Cuddly the cat, and Chubby the pig. Following right along came seven more: Fleecy the Lamb, Milky the Cow, Squawky the Duck, Balky the Mule, Hoppy the Rabbit, Yippy the Duck, and Frisky the Horse. Eventually Rempel’s family of “Little Folks from Sunnyslope” numbered over two-dozen characters.
In 1953 the plant had grown to 570 employees occupying 112,000 square feet in Akron, Ohio. Four sites away from the plant were retained for warehouses. That’s a lot of toys!
In addition to the production in the United States, Rempel had a wholly owned subsidiary in Canada and toys were made and sold under licenses in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Great Britain, Holland, Luxenburg, Italy, India.
As events dictated, the capabilities of Rempel Manufacturing opened opportunities in the war effort. During the Korean War, in addition to toys Rempel fabricated rubberized sleeping mattresses for the Armed Forces, pontoons for the Corps of engineers, crash pads for tanks, and rubber containers for drinking water.
In 1962 the Rempel Manufacturing Company moved to West Point, Miss. A new 76,000 square foot plant was built with most employees from West Point. At that time spring-type rocking horses were their main product, though some squeeze toys remained in production.
In 1966 Rempel merged with Blazon which made outdoor play equipment. Squeeze toys were phased out in 67-68.
Rempel was the last company in the nation to make pure rubber toys.
The company has been sold several times since then and no longer makes any toys.
Mr. Rempel died at the age of 84.
 Joseph E. Kuebler