When we were growing up, did any of us not either have this game or play it at friends’ homes?
The term “cootie” was first coined by U.S. soldiers during World War I. They used it to describe any of the various vermin like lice and bugs that infested the trenches in which the war was waged. When they returned after the war, they brought the term home with them. Kids, in particular, liked using it.
Cootie, the game, was created in 1948 by a Minneapolis postman named William Sharper. Sharper liked to whittle and the first “cootie” was whittled by him as a fishing lure. When he finished the lure, he got the idea of turning it into a kid’s toy.
Sharper had a little store where he sold homemade popcorn machines. He started selling his wooden cooties there. After a year of pretty good sales, Sharper decided to build a game around assembling his somewhat oversize critter. He formed the W. H. Sharper Manufacturing Company and began creating his cooties in plastic. He approached Dayton’s, a local department store, and got them to carry Cootie on a consignment basis. By the end of 1950, Dayton had sold nearly 6,000 sets of the game, not bad for a local product with no advertising. Those sales convinced a distribution company to begin carrying Sharper’s creation nationwide. By 1952, over 1 million Cootie games had been sold. Thereafter, Sharper’s company sold a million a year until well into the 1960s. As time passed, Sharper added other games to his line such as Tumble Bug, Inch Worm and Busy Bee.
Eventually, Sharper sold his creation to Tyco Toys in 1973. By 1976, Hasbro acquired Cootie which it still sells to this day.
So, raise a glass to the only cooties any kid really wanted to have!