How about a game of pommawanga? Or maybe you prefer wari or yoot? These were among the 50 high-quality wooden games made and sold by Willow Brook resident Mary Lea Bailey through the company she and her husband Warren founded: World Wide Games, which sold its products all over the country.
The Delaware business, which operated from 1953 to 1986, will be the focus of a presentation hosted by the Delaware County Historical Society on May 16 at 7 p.m. at the Barn at Stratford. Mary Lea sat down with Willow Brook staff to share her story.
Q: What kind of games did you make and sell?
A: Games from all over the world! Some of these games were played in ancient times. We started out making five games and ended up with 50. Some examples are: yoot (a Korean board game), pommawanga, (a Native American ring game), wari (an African counting game), and table cricket, which is called foosball today. Our most popular game was the Hindu pyramid. Many math teachers used it in the classroom. Warren also designed hardwood versions of Chinese checkers, backgammon and other games.
Q: How did you and your husband start your company?
A: We were living in West Virginia and moved to Delaware to be near Warren’s brother. Warren had worked in a sawmill, but we wanted to do something different and decided to make and sell wooden games. Warren was an excellent woodworker. He graduated from the only national hardwood lumber inspection school in the country. I did the bookkeeping and created the printed materials.
Q: Where did you locate your business?
A: We worked out of our home at first, but we outgrew that and bought a building on Route 37. We also had a showroom where people could play the games. We were really busy and employed 10 people.
Q: Who were your customers?
A: People and institutions from all over the country! Our customers included families, churches, camps, schools, YMCAs and one time, the U.S. military. People liked our products because they were finely crafted, very durable and fun.
Q: How did you sell the games?
A: We published a catalog, starting out in 1953 with a single sheet of paper advertising five games. Our last catalog in 1986 was 25 pages long and offered dozens of games, toys, puzzles and educational materials.
Q: What happened to World Wide Games?
A: After running it for 33 years, we wanted time to travel and pursue our passion of folk dancing. We sold the company in 1986 to S&S Arts and Crafts, but our daughter, Linda Johnson, continued running manufacturing at the Delaware facility for 12 years. Warren and I had a wonderful retirement and moved to Willow Brook. He passed away in 2016.
Q: Why is playing games important?
A: For me, it’s connection with other people. It’s important to play games eye to eye, so we can see each other and connect. That’s what helps us to be real human beings, and to be kind and friendly and helpful to others. I know some people like playing computer games on their own, but I think it’s important to play together in person to make that human connection.