Over 80 years of fun: Our history

80 Years of fun

Humble Beginnings and Fun Statistics

Oriental Trading Company was founded in 1932 in Omaha, Nebraska by Japanese immigrant, Harry Watanabe, becoming one of the nation’s first wholesale providers of novelties and gifts.

Just ten years later the purchase of a ceramics factory allowed the company to place greater emphasis on value-priced toys, positioning itself as a major supplier to the U.S. carnival trade.

The first catalog was introduced in 1954, greatly simplifying the order process. This proved to be a major catalyst for growth over the next two decades and by 1977, Oriental Trading Company expanded its customer base beyond carnival operators, using direct mail marketing to target schools, teachers, retailers and businesses.

The first toll-free telephone number and the introduction of seasonal catalogs brought continued growth throughout the 1980s, and in 1992 the company exceeded 1,000 employees. This overall growth created the need for expansion and an additional warehouse was added to keep up with demand.

Soon after, Fun Express - a commercial sales division - was created to support larger clients like Disney, Applebee’s, IHOP, Dairy Queen, and Chuck E. Cheese’s.

As the Internet grew in popularity, orientaltrading.com was launched in the late 1990s, and by 2001, the company fulfilled its one-millionth online order and was named one of the Top 100 Internet Retailers by the National Retail Federation.

To keep pace with expanding product lines and massive incoming orders, the company broke ground in 2005 on its state-of-the-art fulfillment center in La Vista, Nebraska. This expansive distribution center boasts many world-class characteristics, such as:

  • A voice recognition picking system (nicknamed “Jennifer”) that can hold a conversation with over 100 people at once
  • A total conveyor length of 4.25 miles
  • A high-speed sorter that can process up to 40,000 units per hour

This incredible facility sits on a 120 acre parcel of land and is 750,000 square feet – that’s larger than 12 football fields!

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway saw the tremendous value and growth opportunity in OTC and made the decision to purchase the company in 2012. Operating from the Berkshire Hathaway philosophy, OTC acquired MindWare Holdings, Inc. in 2013. MindWare is a manufacturer, wholesaler, and direct retailer of “brainy toys for kids of all ages” to complement its educational products.

In 2014, Oriental Trading acquired SmileMakers, a direct retailer of patient giveaways for dentists and doctors. Oriental Trading hopes to continue to grow its family and business while bringing smiles to the faces of children and adults everywhere.

Today, the company continues to serve millions of customers through catalogs and websites, offering more than 40,000 products to meet the needs of individuals, teachers, schools, churches, businesses and not-for-profit organizations.