Meet The Reclusive Billionaire Behind The Beanie Baby

01/04/2014 02:00 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
Urbano Delvalle via Getty Images

The man who invented those tiny plush toys you used to buy with your allowance dropped out of college and could not serve in the military because of a hearing problem.

These are just a few of the details about Ty Warner, the billionaire creator of the Beanie Baby, revealed in a document filed last week by Warner’s lawyers aimed at reducing his sentence for tax evasion.

Warner, 69, admitted in October that he failed to report income from a UBS account in Switzerland. He plans to pay a $53.6 million fine, according to Bloomberg and faces a prison sentence of up to five years.

ty warnerTy Warner, the creator of the Beanie Baby

Warner was notoriously secretive about himself and his company, leaving fans to guess the meaning of cryptic announcements on his company's website. As Businessweek notes, the court document provides a rare glimpse into Warner’s private life.

Warner’s lawyers describe him as “a self-made American success story,” who “emerged from an unhappy family and a youth devoid of educational advantages,” in the document. He was forced to drop out of Kalamazoo College in 1962 because he couldn’t afford it, and Warner was designated unable to serve in the military because of hearing loss.

Warner also helped take care of his mother, a paranoid schizophrenic, the court document states. He worked a variety of jobs, including selling encyclopedias and parking cars, before becoming a sales representative for Dakin, a toy company. It was there that he discovered his passion for toys, according to the document.

In 1985, Warner launched Ty Inc. out of his condominium in Illinois and in the early 1990s, he invented the Beanie Baby. The toy was designed to be easy for kids to carry around and buy with their own money, the document states.

They were a huge hit. Toy stores reported waiting lists of 10,000 people or more at the height of the frenzy in the mid-1990s, according to an AdAge story at the time. Warner helped make the toys desirable by retiring certain characters and replacing them with new ones. Now, certain individual Beanie Babies and collections still sell for more than $1,000 on eBay.

Warner also kept tight control over Beanie Baby production, according to the court document. He “treated the final decision about the particular fabric or color of the company’s next Beanie Baby as a non-delegable assignment,” the document states.

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