Inventor of Easy-Bake Oven dies

3:03 PM, Feb 19, 2010   |    comments
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CINCINNATI, OH - Millions of young girls baked their first cookies, cupcakes and brownies because of Ronald Howes Sr.

A lifelong inventor whose creations ranged from high-tech defense weaponry devices to electrostatic printers, Mr. Howes built an impressive resume that will always be best known for the enormously popular toy that he fathered a half century ago: the Easy-Bake Oven.

As director of research and new product development for Cincinnati-based Kenner Toys in the early 1960s, Mr. Howes created what would become a household name and one of America's most iconic toys by drawing inspiration from a Kenner salesman who had just made a trip to New York City.

Upon returning, the salesman wondered aloud whether Kenner could develop a toy version of the chestnut roasters seen on many New York City street corners.

With that remark, the proverbial light bulb clicked on over Mr. Howes' head.

"He started thinking about that and wondering how to create a safe version of that for kids," recalled Nancy Howes, his wife of 47 years.

Much of his experimentation was conducted in the Howes' own kitchen before he finally settled on the concept that made the idea both safe and practical by deciding to use a light bulb to heat the oven.

And the rest is toy industry history.

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"Whenever someone brings up the subject, a woman always chimes in and says, 'Oh, I had one of those,'" his wife said. "Everybody's heard of the Easy-Bake Oven."

Mr. Howes, who lived in Anderson Township, died Tuesday. He was 83.

After his mother died when he was born, Mr. Howes was raised by a German grandmother and her American husband in Over-the-Rhine, where the family ran several corner grocery stores during the Depression.

He taught himself to read before kindergarten, displaying an insatiable curiosity and sharp intelligence that would shape his life.

He left Walnut Hills High School to join the Navy in World War II, with his grandfather helping him to "fib about his age" on the enlistment papers, Nancy Howes said.

After two years in the South Pacific, Mr. Howes returned to Cincinnati and received a degree at the University of Cincinnati, where he had started earning credits at night while still in high school.

At Kenner, Mr. Howes not only created the toy oven with which he will always be inextricably linked, but also met his future wife, who worked as a secretary in his department.

Over the years, his constant tinkering with possible new products was never confined to office hours.

"We no longer have a garage in our house - it's a physics lab," his wife said. "You can hardly walk around in it."

As recently as last month, he still was tending to details related to his latest invention for the Defense Department.

"Being very intelligent, extremely curious and having a short attention span was a good combination, because he was always looking for the next thing to do," Nancy Howes said.

A very spiritual man, Mr. Howes also was very active in the Catholic Church and often taught catechism classes.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Howes leaves six children, Denise Payne of Auckland, New Zealand; Ronald Howes Jr. of Minneapolis; Andrew Howes, of Mount Carmel; Karen Meinor, of Withamsville, and sons James and Christopher Howes, both of Mount Washington.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 7820 Beechmont Avenue, Anderson Township. Visitation will be at the church from 9 a.m. until the service.

Cincinnati Enquirer

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