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By William F. Drueke, III.
This is the history of Drueke - the game manufacturer compiled by me, the third generation. The company was started over 100 years ago in 1914 by William Francis Drueke who continued to run the company until his death in 1956. It remained in his family until his sons Bill, Jr. and Joe sold the company to investors in 1986. I am Bill Drueke, III - born February 1, 1943 two years after the game company purchased the building at 601 Third St., NW in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The company operated at that location until 1992. I was the president at the time of the sale and did not have an option to continue in that position. My involvement with the business began in the late 50"s. In addition to presenting information as one who was a part of the Drueke business for 30 years of my life, I have a collection of salesmens catalogs. I also have a wealth of information recorded in the general journal which covered the first three years when the company restarted in 1932. All of the information you will read here is history either from something I have in print or have actually lived or seen.
Bill, Jr. recorded that his dad was a salesman calling on Marshall Fields in Chicago in 1914. He was there selling card boxes for a card game called Rhum. I found a card game on line called Celebes Rhum that was very popular in 1930 that proceeded the card game Oklahoma Gin. While Bill, Sr. was talking with the stationery buyer he was asked to see the toy buyer who told him their supply of chess from France had been cut off because of the war in Europe. The buyer whose name is unknown suggested that Drueke ought to make chess. Bill, Sr. returned to Grand Rapids and contracted Waddell Manufacturing to make his first chess. William F. Drueke & Company were manufacturers of chessmen, novelties and toys in 1920. The items in the oldest catalog I have which is dated January 1, 1920 included five versions on the Rhum box, 2 books - Rules Of Rhum and Beginners Book Of Chess, 7 cribbage boards and 12 sets of chessmen - only 3 sets of the chess are pictured.
I once visited G.R. Dowel Works that started in 1913 and was informed by the grandson that they made chess for Drueke in the early days of the company. I also have a copy of the Beginners Book Of Chess published by G. R. Dowel Works in 1917.
Bill was awarded a large government contract to make wood breech sticks for cleaning guns. When the war ended in 1918 Drueke had lots of breech sticks left so he made toy wood rakes and shovels. Now he could concentrate more on chess and other games. Whether he toured the country with child chess prodigy Samuel Reshevsky promoting chess is not recorded but there is a photo on line of Bill, Sr. in New York in 1922 with Reshevsky. I do not have any business records for this time period which continued up to 1928 when Drueke got out of the business until 1932 when it was restarted in the basement of his home in Grand Rapids. During the time they were out of business Sterling Furniture of Grand Rapids manufactured chess claiming to be -------- " Succeeding Wm. F. Drueke & Co. "
Chess and cribbage were the two main product lines for Drueke from 1932 through 1986. The chessboards were made of walnut and birch or maple in a range of sizes from 1" squares to 2-3/4" squares. During the period of time I was involved with the company the U.S. Chess Federation was our largest customer of boards and chess pieces. Most of the wood chess Drueke sold during their history was either purchased from wood turners or imported. It was often brought in unfinished and Drueke would finish the pieces and package them in their own box. Some sets were made by Drueke until 1928 but I do not know which sets were. When the business was opened in 1932 the first thing that was done, William had his daughter Marian set up a set of books. I have that general journal stating that fact. This journal has names of vendors covering a three year period. I also have the price list for 1932 and the catalog for 1935.
In the general journal of 1932 there were regular entries for purchases of chess from Henry Kayser & Fils an importer located in New York. These purchases continued over the entire three year period. This was the most likely source for the 1/2" plastic peg chess pieces. Drueke began selling plastic chess pieces some time between 1935 and 1939. The first sets were turned and carved catalin. Molded plastic sets were offered in the 1939 catalog made of Tenite plastic. The early plastic machines were plunger type injection molding machines and later went to screw type injection molding machines. The latter kind were what Drueke eventually bought. Around 1940 Drueke began selling 1/2" tall plastic chess pieces in their bookshelf series of games that were so popular during the World War II. The E.S Lowe Co. was also selling a bookshelf series that carried their name having slightly different titles but looked the same as those by Drueke. I recently noticed that a third company, Metro Games, also supplied a chess set that was similar
In 1940 Drueke came out with the octagon shaped chess pieces designed by Charles B. Chatfield. This design was also used for the 3/4" pieces used in their peg and magnetic chess sets. Until March 31, 2015 I was not able to find out who was making plastic chess pieces for Drueke. Duncan Pohl sent me a photo of a set of the Drueke octagon chess set on the cover of a Beginners Chess Set from Selchow and Righter. Until the mid 20th century they produced other peoples games. This is not a fact but it is possible S & R was molding chess for Drueke as they did not begin molding their own chess pieces and other plastic items until 1954. The most popular was the Little Jewel folding magnetic set. This set was stolen from our display at The New York Stationery Show sent over seas and came back into the United States for half the price. This is a fact - I set up the display at that show and when we packed up the product to ship it back to Grand Rapids that set was gone. Needless to say our sales took a nose dive.
It was during the 50's that the Players Choice Chess was introduced. This design ranged in size from a 2 1/2" tall king up to the Imperial Set with a 5" king. The King Arthur chess that required a very costly set of molds and never sold well was also a part of this era . The biggest seller of all was the 3 1/2" Players Choice Chess Set that is no longer manufactured. If you find it on Ebay, you will probably have to bid up to $200. for the extra heavy weight set. Also, during the 50's wood chess from Drueke was being phased out.
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