Merle Roberts, a barber from Cincinnati, Ohio
In the 1960s, Roberts created a simplified version of the card game Crazy Eights, and sold it out of the trunk of his car and at Kiwanis conventions. That might well have been all there is to write about it…if a neighbor hadn’t played the game with an acquaintance named Bill Apple. Apple, in turn, showed the game to his brothers-in-law Bob Tezak and Ed Ackeman on Thanksgiving Day in 1971. “It was miserable weather that weekend so we just played game after game,” Tezak recalls. He and Ackeman enjoyed it so much that they talked Apple into buying it. “We paid Roberts in the neighborhood of $100,000 for all rights to the game, which in 1972 was a considerable amount of money,” Tezak says. “I got a lot of strange looks, but I did it. At the time I didn’t know any better.”
Tezak was a florist and funeral home director. The trio set up shop in the back room of his family’s funeral parlor while Ackeman took a two years’ leave of absence from his job as a bank teller to develop and sell Uno. In their first year of business, they sold 5,000 games and made $54 in profits—which they split three ways. Their big break came in 1977 when Tezak made a sales presentation at the Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. “I can see this guy isn’t about to place an order,” Tezak remembers, “but I’m still making my pitch when Wal-Mart’s founder Sam Walton walks in and says, ‘How ya’ doin’, son?’ So I told him about Uno. When I got done, he was quiet for awhile. Then he said, ‘Buy a couple gross from the boy.’ That made us. What Wal- Mart buys, everybody buys.” Since then, Uno has sold more than 100 million decks, making it the number-one card game in the world (after playing cards).