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He Bet His Life and Brought Joy to Millions

'Newsweek' tells of the remarkable life of Henry Orenstein
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2016 5:11 PM CST
Updated Dec 30, 2016 12:03 AM CST
He Bet His Life and Brought Joy to Millions
Transformers "Construct-Bots" are seen in 2014.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

His name is Henry Orenstein, and as a Newsweek profile makes clear, the 93-year-old New Jersey resident really ought to be a household name. For starters, he survived the Holocaust thanks to a risky gamble. For another, he's a prolific toy inventor and the brainchild behind the Transformers franchise. And if that's not enough, he also happened to change the game of poker. The chain of events begins in Poland during World War II. While in a concentration camp, Orenstein saved himself and his brothers by lying and saying they were all mathematicians and scientists. They escaped execution by working on a special project, which itself was a bogus one cooked up by German scientists eager to avoid the war themselves, per Newsweek. Regardless, Orenstein's gamble paid off, and he emigrated to the US after the war.

The story recounts how the entrepreneurial Orenstein became a toymaker and the holder of more than 100 patents. Decades ago, he made a mint with Suzy Homemaker appliances, Johnny Lightning racing cars, and dolls of all kinds. Then, at a toy fair, he saw a little noticed toy car that turned into a plane, and voila, he pitched to Hasbro the idea that turned into the Transformers behemoth. That's a storied enough life for anyone. But in his 60s, Orenstein took up poker as a pastime. He realized the game was boring to watch and came up with the idea of putting a camera beneath the table so viewers could see what players had. His "hole-card-cam" (yes, he's got the patent for that, too) is now a poker staple and a key factor behind the game's current popularity. (Read Newsweek's piece in full here.)

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