The object of the original 1949 game was to be the first player to build a cootie piece by piece from various plastic body parts that include a beehive-like body, a head, antennae, eyes, a coiled proboscis, and six legs. Body parts are acquired following the player's roll of a die, with each number on the die corresponding to one of the body parts. The body corresponds to one, the head to two, three to the antennas (feelers), four to the eye, five to the proboscis (snout), and six to the leg. The first part to be acquired must be the body, and then the head. All other body parts may then be acquired in any order. When a player acquires a part, he is permitted an additional throw of the die in an attempt to acquire another part. The winner is the first player to completely assemble a cootie.
In 1948, Minneapolis, Minnesota, postman William H. Schaper whittled a bug-like fishing lure he believed had toy potential, and sold it (and others like it) in his store as a sideline to his homebound business of manufacturing small commercial popcorn machines. Eventually, he created a game around his creation, and, in 1949, molded it in plastic and formed the W. H. Schaper Mfg. Co. Inc.
Schaper offered Dayton's, a local department store, several Cootie sets on consignment and the game proved a hit, selling 5,592 by the end of 1950. By 1952, Schaper's company sold 1.2 million Cootie games, and thereafter, a million games a year. By the mid-1960's, Schaper's company was selling more than twenty-five different games from its Golden Valley, Minnesota, headquarters.
The company eventually produced Cootie spinoffs such as Giant Cootie and Deluxe 6 Cootie, a game with six cooties instead of four. In the late 1960's, Sears offered an exclusive Cootie House with a vinyl mat and eight Cooties.
Tyco Toys bought W.H. Schaper Mfg. Co. Inc. in 1973 and manufactured the game with a change in graphics but little change to the original game. In 1986, Hasbro, through its subsidiary Milton Bradley Co., arranged with Tyco Toys Inc. to purchase Cootie and three other games from the Schaper Toy Division of Kusan Inc. Milton Bradley brought a new look to Cootie with legs that sported in-line skates, sneakers, and other accessories.
Though the Schaper company published other games including Ants in the Pants, Don't Spill the Beans, and Don't Break the Ice, Cootie remained the company's best seller with over 50 million games sold between 1949 and 2005.