Henry Orenstein is an 84-year old man that lives in a quiet town in New Jersey and still favors polyester suits and coke bottle glasses. He's also a toymaker, author, inventor, producer, poker champion, and Holocaust survivor. If you don't recognize the name “Henry Orenstein,” then maybe you're more familiar with his biggest claim to fame: the Transformers.
Henry Orenstein not only overcame the atrocities of the Holocaust, he emerged from his harrowing experiences in five Nazi concentration camps a brilliant and determined man. He introduced the early Japanese concept for Transformers (then called Diaclones) to Hasbro CEO Stephen Hassenfeld in 1983. On his insistence, the Hasbro development team (with Orenstein in tow) traveled halfway around the world to the offices of Japanese toymaker Takara where they struck a licensing deal for the robot toy design that would someday spawn its own mega-franchise.
While Hasbro officials from that era have repeatedly tried to downplay Orenstein's role in the creation of the Transformers, no one has yet denied that he was the first to bring those early robot toys to Hasbro's attention. There can be no doubt that if there had been no Henry Orenstein, there would be no Transformers. There would also be no Johnny Lightning cars, no Johnny Seven gun, or no Dolly Surprise dolls—to name just a handful of his 100+ patents.
Orenstein's own game of choice had been chess for most of his life, but in the 1980's the extreme concentration required by the game started to give him migraines; a friend recommended he try poker instead, and as they say, the rest is history. While Orenstein has twice finished in the money at the WSOP Main Event (and once at the final table), his preferred poker game is and will always be Seven Card Stud. His loyalty to the game earned him a WSOP bracelet in the 1996 $5000 Seven Card Stud event. Orenstein was 71 at the time.
It was this late in life interest in poker that inspired Orenstein to watch an ESPN broadcast of the World Series of Poker in the early 1990's. He has stated several times over that he found that broadcast immensely boring since he never truly knew a player's hand, but it was that lack of interactivity that served as the impetus for Orenstein's next great invention: the hole card camera. A table-level camera scans poker players' hole cards and transfers the image to TV screens to give announcers and viewers the big picture. This seemingly small invention revolutionized poker as a spectator sport, causing a huge boom in poker as a whole and spawning many poker show spin-offs including the World Poker Tour. Industry insiders speculate that Orenstein's hole cam created in excess of 150,000 jobs.
His royalties from the World Poker Tour's use of his hole card cam have allowed him to create and produce poker shows like the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament and High Stakes Poker (both of which also feature his hole cam invention). The hole cam has been so pivotal that in 2008 Orenstein was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. With such wild success comes a lot of money. What does Orenstein like to do with his? Give it away. Not only is Henry Orenstein a genius, it turns out he's a really nice guy.
In a 2005 interview, Orenstein was quoted as saying that, “I still live in hope that the world will become a better place.” Thanks to his efforts as a toymaker, poker player, inventor and philanthropist it's safe to say that Orenstein has done his part to fulfill that hope. So when you rent Transformers 2 later this year or are peeking at the hole cards at the WSOP Main Event in November, be sure give credit where credit's due by taking a moment to acknowledge the amazing mind of Henry Orenstein.