Ben Cooper, Inc. was an American company that manufactured Halloween costumes. The company stayed open from the 1930s through the 1980s, and their costumes were absolutely ubiquitous in the 1950s to the 1970s. If you weren't wearing a Ben Cooper costume, you probably knew a half-dozen kids in school who were.
The company was founded in 1937 by Ben Cooper, a guy who'd got into the theatrical costume biz and designed costumes and sets for the Cotton Club and the Ziegfeld Follies. Live theater was taking a hit during the Depression while Halloween was becoming more popular, so he decided to start selling Halloween costumes. He acquired a company called A.S. Fishbach, Inc. because they had a license to make costumes for Disney characters. (The two companies officially merged at the end of 1942.)
The Cooper costumes were cheap -- paper or thin plastic masks with plastic or thin fabric smocks with a silk-screened image on the front. But they sold for $3 or less, and Cooper was able to get their costumes sold in big stores like J.C. Penney's, Sears, Woolworth's -- as well as every five-and-dime and grocery store around. All this was enough to make them the biggest Halloween costume company in the country by the end of the 1940s.
One of the company's best ideas was creating costumes of pop culture characters in addition to the traditional monster costumes. They made costumes for Disney characters, Davy Crockett, Superman, Batman, the Munsters, Bozo the Clown, Raggedy Ann, Peanuts, Sesame Street, Space Ghost, Evel Knievel, the Fonz, Godzilla, Count Chocula and FrankenBerry, Flipper, Rat Fink, Underdog, Jaws, the Village People, and just about every other character you can think of. They made a Spider-Man costume when Spidey was almost completely unknown. They made costumes for John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy (they destroyed thousands of them after Kennedy's assassination), Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.
Despite the cheapness of the costumes, Ben Cooper outfits had a distinctive look that was instantly recognizable. The molded plastic masks are decorated with thick black lines and lurid, screaming colors. Some of the smocks will look like the costumes worn by the characters, but just as often, they'll feature colorful, dynamic images of the character, complete with an identifying logo. So you'd be wearing a mask of Darth Vader, along with a smock that had another picture of Darth Vader on it, and for some reason, Vader would have the words "Star Wars" written across his chest. It made it hard to imagine that people thought the real Darth Vader was stalking the neighborhood on Halloween, because why would a Sith Lord run around with a picture of himself on his chest?
The 1980s were rough for the company, particularly after the Tylenol poisoning case in late September 1982, when many parents opted out of Halloween and trick or treating for a couple years. Business recovered after only a few years, but the damage had been done -- they filed for bankruptcy in 1988, and one of the company's facilities in Georgia was destroyed in a fire the next year. Though the company paid its creditors and emerged from bankruptcy in 1989, disputes with their insurance companies spent a couple years in the courts. They moved to North Carolina in January 1991 to save money, but the move itself caused a dip in their finances. They again filed for Chapter 11 later that year -- ironically, on the day before Halloween. The company was bought by Rubie's Costume Co. in 1992, effectively putting an end to Ben Cooper, Inc.
Nostalgia has made Ben Cooper costumes very valuable for collectors, especially if they come with the original box. You probably won't be able to retire off the profits, but with the right costume and the right collector, you could potentially pick up around $200 for a Ben Cooper in good condition. Not bad for something that probably sold for less than $15.
And because nostalgia makes all things new again, the brand is being relaunched in 2017, this time as Ben Cooper, LLC. So far, they're selling T-shirts and stickers, and they've partnered with a designer to make women's clothing based on the original designs. If they're able to keep the project going, there may be art prints on the way, too. And maybe, someday... kids' costumes?
Ben Cooper website