The creator of the Transformers passed away peacefully in his home in New Jersey on Dec. 14.
Henry Orenstein was 98 years old, according to Newsweek.
Orenstein was born in Hrubieszów, Poland, and he lost his parents in the Holocaust and endured a Nazi concentration camp in Germany in his youth.
In one harrowing incident, a Ukrainian police officer marched Orenstein to an execution pit. But he gave the officer his watch and a wad of cash, then made a run for it, praying the officer wouldn’t shoot him in the back. His life is one for the history books – he made it from a small town in Poland and through a concentration camp to a 24th-floor apartment in one of the most expensive parts of Manhattan.
His career as a toymaker began after Orenstein made his way to the United States in 1947. He pitched a line of toys that transformed into toy company Hasbro. CEO Alan Hassenfeld said that was the catalyst for the iconic toys becoming one of the biggest hits of all time.
“Henry basically had a sense that Transformers was going to be something that would be transformational for the toy industry,” Hassenfeld said. “To be able to take a car and, with a little bit of dexterity, change it into another toy, that was something magical.”
Orenstein was also behind the 1950s doll Betty the Beautiful Bride, which sold more than a million units in less than a month.
He found a transforming car at the New York Toy Fair, and it put him in a trance, he told Newsweek in 2016. A toy company in Japan manufactured the car.
“I knew the president,” Orenstein said. “I went to him and said, ‘I think this could be a great thing, building a bridge between Japanese ingenuity and American marketing.'”
He then went to Hasbro and brought them together with the Japanese company.
“It was Henry who really saw the magic, the potential, that was inside all these different brands that Takara was presenting,” said Tom Warner, Senior Vice President of the Transformers franchise. “There’s a lot of toys out there, but it takes a very special individual to look at something, identify it, and say it will be a big hit in the U.S. “
While he didn’t write the shows or style the more popular characters in the Transformers universe, he was the first to see the toys’ potential.
Orenstein also invented the hole-card cameras in Poker, which led to the card game becoming a sensation all around the globe. The Poker Hall of Fame inducted the toy creator in 2008. He is survived by his wife, Susie Orenstein.