Joel Kreiss, 81, invented and patented the Tinkle Target, the first-ever urinal target that sticks to the toilet bowl. It was the early 1970s, and Kreiss, originally from Brooklyn, was then a New Jersey-based dentist with a growing family. His idea didn’t take off the way he hoped at the time, but variations on his urinal target — from a baked-in fly decal to bull’s-eyes centered around the faces of political figures — can now be found everywhere from airports to baseball stadiums to restaurants across the world.
Having a son, I was involved in potty training. And I remembered, as a kid, my father used to work early in the morning. He’d get up, smoke a cigarette and throw the butt in the toilet. So as not to make noise, I guess, he didn’t flush. I’d get up, and you know, go to urinate. This was during the war, so you’re either sinking boats or shooting down airplanes. It was whatever the cigarette butt was in your imagination at the time. But I’d aim for it, and that was always kind of in my head. It was just a fun thing.
I don’t know how it occurred to me as a grown-up, but I came up with this idea to do something to help toilet train little kids. I think that the male animal, including homo sapiens, has a predilection to aim, to throw things, to bring down a boat, to bring down a canoe. Give them a ball, and they’ll throw it. Give them a rock, and they’ll throw it. I’m not sure why guys do that. Maybe it’s a biologic imperative, a survival mechanism. I don’t know. But anyway, guys want to aim. I thought, Jeez, if there was something in the toilet, the kid would run to go to it. You wouldn’t even have to tell him, he would just aim for it.
So I went about trying to figure out how to invent a product, ’cause I’d never invented one before. I’m a dentist, and I did other things in my life. How do you do this damn thing? Well, it has to be able to be underwater. Also, since the toilet bowl is a compound curve, I needed something that could fit, something that goes in all directions. That’s when I came up with the idea of an octopus holding a target.
I found someone who made decals, and I tested them out. Sure enough, when I put them in the toilet bowl in my house, my son and all of his buddies couldn’t wait to use the bathroom. They loved peeing in the pot. They thought it was the best thing that ever happened to them. We became the local pissatorium, if you’ll pardon the expression.
I came up with the idea of Tinkle Target as a name. I do poetry, and I liked the alliteration. “His aim is the game” was the tag line underneath. It said it was invented by a doctor, all that stuff.
That was the easy part, actually, because the hard part, as I learned, was getting it on the market. We manufactured a bunch of them, and any time I showed it to a woman, it was instant understanding of what it was. “Oh my God, could I use that?!?! Where can I get it?!?!” They’d also say stuff like, “It’s so good, it’s the first time the bathroom is clean. Usually I’m cleaning up the walls.”
Who knew that? I mean, I never had that problem, but evidently guys aren’t so careful. But when you put the target in there, they’re working on their aim. It was hysterical.
In any event, I knew I had a product that worked. I got a patent. And I did some advertising in magazines, which is very, very expensive, and I sold a bunch. Then I went to try to get them on the market, and that’s where I found that the world wasn’t as honest as dentistry. It seems there’s more than one moral code out there, and I couldn’t crack it. People say, “Well, that’s business.” That means you can screw your buddy because that’s business and it’s accepted? I don’t know how you do that. I really don’t.
There was another thing, too: The guys who were buying products for the big companies knew nothing about the Tinkle Target, and they were all afraid to take a chance. They only wanted things they know were going to work.
I did sell it to a couple stores. I got it in Drug Fair, which was a local drug store in the New York metropolitan area. I got it in a few other places as well, but the guy never paid me. So that was the end of that one. Most of the sales then were word-of-mouth. Someone bought it, and they’d tell their friends.
It got to the point where I just couldn’t keep pushing this thing. I had a practice to run, and I made some, I think, gross errors in terms of how to deal with a product. I should’ve found someone to give me two cents a piece and do the rest of it. I finally said, “The hell with this, I just don’t have time.” You can’t have everything. And I had fun doing it.
I lost a lot of money, but you know what? I’m still eating, and I’m still doing the things I want to do. I’m 81, and I’m okay. Plus, I proved to myself that I had an idea that I was able to bring to the market, and that was kind of rewarding in and of itself. I did sell them. People did like them. Maybe in some way, that satisfied whatever it was within me that said, “Could I do such a thing? Would I be able to take an idea and make it work?”
From an experience point-of-view, maybe it made my ego a little better. I got a little smarter, you know. I was never gonna be a millionaire anyway, so who cares? There were a lot of people I met along the way. It was interesting. I learned a lot. I also learned not to try to do it again.
— As told to Jessica Ogilvie