INVENTOR OF USELESS THINGS
Born in Cincinnati, the son of William Bruce Poynter and Gertrude Johnson. William was a painter, photographer and amateur inventor. Gertrude was herself a professional painter.
Don made his first invention at the age of just 11. It was a remote- controlled tank complete with working cannons.
He used to steal gunpowder from his father’s photographic supplies which he used to make small bombs. He then dropped them from a prototype drone he had invented.
After leaving school he served two years in the US Army where he entertained other troops with a magic and ventriloquism act.
He left the military to go to the University of Cincinnati where he gained a degree in Business Studies.
In his spare time, he was a voice actor for WLW Radio in Cincinnati. His co-star was an unknown called Doris Day.
At the University he had been a ‘baton-twirler’ (a.k.a. cheerleader), who was considered so talented that he was signed up for the Harlem Globetrotters. He also became the drummer for the Baton Twirlers, beating his drum as he walked along a tightrope.
He was working as an advertising agent when he had his first novelty idea, whisky flavoured toothpaste. He went to the bank and found the loans officer was a former baton-twirler colleague and a $10,000 loan was granted immediately.
So, he started his own business, ‘Poynter Creations’ (later re-named Poynter International), to create novelty items which would make people laugh.
He also married Mona. They went on to have four children.
At the time ‘The Addams Family’ was very popular on television. Don made a mechanical ‘The Thing’ coin box. He sold 14 million in just one year. It had a hand that came out, snatched a coin and then was closed back into the box.
He invented a similar thing called the ‘Little Black Box’. It was a box that shut automatically when you flicked a hidden switch underneath. He called it his most useless invention – but it sold millions. “It does absolutely nothing except shut down.”
It was Don who invented the basketball backboard for use on a wastepaper basket. He also created a walking golf ball.
From then on, he invented many things. He created a golf ball with a hole in it – the original ‘Hole in One’. He invented crossword puzzle toilet paper. He created a type of melting wax which is still used on the tops of US whiskey bottles. His most famous invention was the ‘Talking Toilet Seat’
He invented the Jayne Mansfield hot water bottle so that you could cuddle up to Jayne at night. To do this he had to fly to Hollywood to create a mould of Jayne’s body that would become the design of the bottle. He stayed a week and became close friends with the actress. He later admitted he could have done the work in just two days but…” hell, why wouldn’t you stay longer?” He paid Jayne Mansfield $5,000 for the rights.
He also invented Uncle Fester’s mystery light bulb which got used on the Addams Family programme. It lit up when held in a hand or put in a mouth!
With so many TV links he moved into television production. He was responsible for ‘What’s My Line’ and ‘The Mummynappers’, two very popular programmes in the USA.
He even invented the world’s smallest record player and developed 39 discs to be played on it, hiring a full orchestra to play the tunes for the recordings.
And the ideas just kept coming. Asked how many patents he had, Don estimated he held over one hundred but admitted he had lost count.
Along with Matchbox Cars he created ‘Steer ‘N’ Go’, which earned him $75 million in under a year.
He was renowned for his honesty. He never signed contracts – a handshake was enough for him. His novelty business employed over 30 people.
He sank some of his fortune into the Triple Crown Country Club in Union, Kentucky, and created the highly successful company ‘World of Golf’.
And he spent most of his later years playing golf, living in a retirement community in Kenwood.
At the age of 94, Don invented ‘Bobbleheads’. He called the Disney Corporation with his idea but was rejected out of hand. He was nonplussed. He said, “In the old days I just used to deal with Walt himself.”
He was very proud that his daughter Amy (Brewer) was Mayor of Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Don eventually caught cancer and lived his last weeks in a hospice. There he loved telling tales of old times. A social worker contacted his daughter Molly Maundrell saying she thought Don was hallucinating as he was telling such unbelievable tales. Molly informed her they were all true.
He always recognized he had been lucky to come along at a time when popular culture was beginning to take off (1950s). “The Second World War was over. People had money and were feeling good. They wanted to laugh and have fun.”
“I started out trying to entertain myself, then found it was fun to entertain other people too.”
All his inventions, however bonkers, are on display in the Cincinnati Museum Centre.
RIP – Repeated Inventions = Pointless