In 1954, brothers Donald and Russell Weiner became owners of the Thomas Weiner Company, a manufacturer of Super Bubble gum, hard candy and suckers. Using a combination of their first names—Don and Russ—the brothers formed the Donruss Company, beginning the run of the second-oldest card company today.
The 1950s and '60s saw Donruss make a tidy profit from its bubble gum operations while dabbling in the trading card market. Their first offerings included a variety of entertainment card sets, including products based on hit TV shows like "The Monkees" and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."
Purchased in 1969 by General Mills, Donruss remained active in the entertainment card market with titles like "Saturday Night Fever," "Elvis Presley" and the hugely successful "Kiss" set based on the legendary '70s rock group. However, the entertainment card market was relatively small and brought only modest profits, so Donruss began looking for an avenue to provide more stability year after year.
Baseball cards offered obvious potential for the future, and once Topps' monopoly over the baseball card market ended in the late '70s, representatives from Donruss immediately flew to New York to meet with Major League Baseball in an attempt to get a trading card license. Granted the desired baseball license late in 1980, Donruss rushed out its debut baseball product in just a few months and became a player in the baseball card market.
Just as Donruss began to resolve issues of distribution and overproduction while producing baseball sets in 1982 and 1983 that were accepted with open arms by hobbyists, it was purchased by a company from Finland known as Huhtamaki Oy. Leaf Candy Company in Illinois was purchased by Huhtamaki at the same time, leading to Donruss and Leaf merging together, and Donruss trading cards began to immediately benefit from Leaf Candy's stellar distribution network.
1984 marked a turning point in Donruss baseball card history with the release of that year's set, noteworthy for its inclusion of New York Yankees rookie Don Mattingly and the fact the cards were in short supply for the first time. Continuing its momentum, Donruss produced a corresponding baseball set for Canadian collectors in 1985 known as Leaf. The sets, which ran for four years, were virtually identical to the Donruss cards with the exception of the backs, which contained both French and English text and a Leaf logo on the front.
Pioneering the growing rookie card craze, Donruss produced a 56-card boxed set known as "The Rookies" in 1986. Featuring the top prospects in the major leagues and available only in hobby shops, the set was an instant success. 1986 also marked the fifth consecutive year that the "Diamond Kings" subset was produced. Originally featuring the artwork of longtime sports artist Dick Perez, Diamond Kings is the longest running subset in the sports card market and remains a wildly popular part of each Donruss set.
Continuing their success throughout the remainder of the decade, Donruss launched its first premium brand in 1990 called Leaf Baseball. The following year saw the debut of Studio Baseball, which was the first black-and-white card set issued in more than 30 years and spawned many similar sets from competitors.
Donruss responded to the industry slowing down in 1992 by attaining a NHL license and producing Donruss and Leaf hockey sets for the 1993-1994 season, becoming a major player in baseball, football and hockey throughout the '90s. Reacquiring a license from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association in 2001 allowed for the release of 2001 Donruss Baseball, which incorporated 1999 and 2000 "Lost Years" sets for avid collectors of Donruss baseball cards. Now making a name for itself with several innovative autograph and memorabilia insert programs, Donruss maintains it's standing as a company renowned for heritage and innovation.