Oriental Trading Company was founded as a gift shop in Omaha, Nebraska in 1932 by Harry Watanabe. OTC was one of the United States’ first wholesale companies. The company quickly expanded to 17 shops.
During WWII there were restrictions on imports from Japan, and OTC had to shrink back to its Omaha base, buying a ceramic shop that made Kewpie dolls.
In the 1950’s OTC became a major supplier to the U.S. carnival trade. The company launched its first catalog in the 1970’s.
In 1977 Harry Watanabe’s son Terry took over the company and shifted the focus from carnivals to supplying party goods for churches, retailers, schools, and individuals.
Amid allegations of alcohol and gambling addictions, Terry Watanabe sold his stake in the company to private equity firm Brentwood Associates in 2000.
In 2006 Carlyle Group bought 68% of the company.
In 2010 OTC filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection with $463 million in assets, $756 million in liabilities, and $485 in net sales.
In 2012 Berkshire Hathaway acquired the company for about $500 million.
Today the Oriental Trading Company offers 40,000 products to businesses, non-profit organizations, individuals, schools, churches, and teachers. OTC has 2,000 employees.