The game of marbles is estimated to go back 5,000 years. Through most of their history, marbles were made of stone, bone, clay, or whatever material was available. Truly round marbles were a rare and expensive toy, but we eventually found ways to make enough of them for everyone.
1. The glass maker Elias Greiner Vetters Sohn worked for Farbglashuette Lauscha, a German glass company founded in the 1500s. In 1846 he invented the marbelschere, or marble scissors, with which a glassmaker could cut a rope of glass and forms balls with the soft pieces. Greiner received a patent in 1849 for the invention of "artificial semi-precious and precious stone balls", or as we call them, glass marbles. To produce enough of these hand-made marbles, the company gave Greiner his own factory.
2. Marbles were first mass-produced in Akron, Ohio in 1884 when the Akron Toy Company began producing clay marbles. The man behind the marbles, Samuel C. Dyke, founded The American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company in 1891, which became the biggest American toy company of the 19th century. For the first time, marbles became cheap enough for children to buy them with their own money.
3. Samuel Dyke also produced handmade glass marbles in Akron. In 1890, he hired master glass maker James Harvey Leighton to train workers in making glass marbles. Eventually, Dyke's factory was turning out a million marbles a day. When it burned in 1904, so many children rummaged through the ruins for marbles that, for safety's sake, the remains of the building were buried. But there was no shortage of marbles for sale, as dozens of companies in the Akron area were making marbles and other toys at the time.
4. Danish immigrant Martin F. Christensen invented a machine to mass-produce glass marbles in 1902, but didn't receive a patent on his creation until 1905. However, by then he had already opened a marble factory in, yes, Akron, Ohio which cranked out 12 million glass marbles every year.
5. In the mid-1990s, the site of the burned American Marble factory was a parking lot. The city decided to replace it with a park, and as the ground was dug up, thousands of very old marbles were uncovered. So a portion of the park became home to the American Toy Marble Museum, which opened to the public in 2002. Many of the unearthed marbles are on display at the museum in Akron.