John Ratzenberger on the Joy of Tinkering

November 16, 2009 Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl.
South Hall, Level One, Room105A
Tuesday, November 17, 9:30 a.m.

The results of a new national study shows we've become a nation of "non-tinkerers" and the findings will be unveiled on Tuesday morning. Actor and producer John Ratzenberger and Gerald Shankel, president of Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT), The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl., will reveal the findings from this poll of adults and teens and describe how this "hands-off" policy around the house is a leading cause of disinterest among American youth to fill much-needed, future skilled labor jobs in the industrial arena. Ratzenberger, an NBT co-founder, will reveal statistics on how many adults work with their hands to build or fix things, teen interest in manufacturing, how many teens have visited a factory or taken a shop class, how much time teens spend working with their hands each week and much more. Also learn about NBT efforts to combat these perceptions and encourage youth interest in the trades.


Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT), The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl., (FMA) encourages America's youth to enter careers in manufacturing to avert a growing crisis in this country – the shortage of skilled workers in the trade arena.

Based in Rockford, Ill., headquarters for the FMA, NBT provides grants to educational institutions offering manufacturing camps and awards scholarships to students pursuing trade careers. This year, the NBT has already awarded 19 grants to organizations offering summer manufacturing camps and 29 scholarships to students pursing vocational and technical careers.

FMA president and CEO Gerald Shankel directs the organization, while actor, director and producer John Ratzenberger, an NBT founder, leads the Foundation's national public awareness campaigns.

"We are utilizing our resources to spread the message that manufacturing is a viable career option," said Shankel. "We must spark interest among young people in the industry and help revitalize the future of manufacturing in America.

"We must inform today's youth that it's honorable to work with your hands," Shankel continued. "The focus is on inspiring young people to ultimately explore the manufacturing career path by getting them to tinker, fix and make stuff, and dream about inventing things."

Ratzenberger contributes his extensive experience with American manufacturers and valuable relationships in the entertainment, political, social and corporate arenas.

"I can think of no enterprise more worthy than one devoted to inspiring the next generation of engineers, builders and manufacturers," said Ratzenberger. "I am proud to know that with each child who attends one of our camps or receives one of our scholarships, we are rebuilding America's foundation one tinkerer at a time.

"We must encourage young people to consider manufacturing as a career when they graduate from high school," added Ratzenberger. "Part of the problem is the media and Hollywood often portray manufacturing and anyone who works with their hands in a poor light. But the industrial arts have always taken precedence over the fine arts … remember, someone had to build the ceiling before Michelangelo could go to work. And even the most educated and skilled brain surgeon can't save a life if a plumber hasn't done his job so that clean, hot water flows through the pipes in the operating room where the surgical teams wash their hands. We need to do better at informing the next generation and their parents that working a skilled job with your hands can be rewarding financially and fulfilling personally."

Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs: The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl., offers grants to not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions introducing young people to metal forming and fabricating careers in manufacturing, provides funding to organizations starting or expanding manufacturing camps for youth, and issues scholarships to students at colleges and trade schools pursuing careers in manufacturing. More information on NBT is available by visiting .

Based in Rockford, Ill., the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, is a professional organization with more than 2,300 members working together to improve the metal forming and fabricating industry.


Born on April 6, 1947 in Bridgeport, Conn., master improvisational actor John Ratzenberger gained international fame as the character "Cliff" in the NBC phenomenon Cheers. During more than three decades of movie making and theatre, John has enjoyed success as a screenwriter, director, producer and multi Emmy-nominated actor. He also is an accomplished entrepreneur and philanthropist.

John's charitable initiatives include raising awareness of the skilled trades and engineering disciplines among young people in order to train tomorrow's manufacturing workforce. As a founder of Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation, (, John has committed his resources to introducing America's youth to the pleasures of "tinkering" – getting away from their video games and TV sets and into the backyard building things. "It is our mission to inspire the next generation of artisans, inventors, engineers, repairmen and skilled workers – in short, a self-sufficient, self-sustaining society," says Ratzenberger. John's tag line has become "Little hands build big dreams. Give children tools and watch them build America."

Nuts and Bolts recently joined forces with the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl. (FMA) to promote American manufacturing through grants to not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions by introducing young people to metal forming and fabricating careers, funding to organizations starting or expanding manufacturing camps for youth, and scholarships to students at colleges and trade schools pursuing careers in the industry.

John is an outspoken advocate for American-made products and the companies that keep Americans working. In 2007, John embarked on a yearlong commitment with the Association for American Manufacturing and US Steelworkers to create a Presidential Town Hall Tour. The Town Hall series brought attention to issues that American voters were demanding to hear about – a real commitment from presidential candidates to ensure a strong manufacturing industry. During the town hall events, John encouraged voters to ask the presidential candidates what specific policies they will enact to strengthen the American manufacturing base, which is vital to our economic and national security.

John was invited to address Congress and its Manufacturing Caucus that same year, for which he prepared his oft-quoted speech "The Industrial Tsunami Heading Our Way". He continues to work with politicians on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the American manufacturing industry has a voice in Washington.

John's Acting Career

John's career began in earnest in the early 1970s, when he formed the improvisational theatre duo "Sal's Meat Market," which performed to standing-room-only crowds throughout Europe for 634 straight performances.

In between his theatre touring in Europe, John was a producer and screenwriter for the BBC, Paravision, Royal Court Theater, Hampstead Theater Club, Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and Granada TV. Projects he wrote include: 5 Minutes in America, The Golden Dreamboat, Friends in Space, Crown Court and Winner Take All.

On the silver screen, John's first motion picture role was in the Golden Globe-nominated film The Ritz (1976), directed by Richard Lester and starring Rita Moreno and Jack Weston. He went on to appear in more than 22 major motion pictures over the next few years, including Gandhi (1982) and Star Wars' Empire Strikes Back (1980). He also starred in the Granada TV series, Small World.

In all, John has acted in 38 major motion pictures, including Determination of Death (2001), Superman (1978) and Superman 2 (1980), One Night Stand (1997), Tick Tock (1999), That Darn Cat (1997), She's Having a Baby (1988), Protocol (1984), The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), Ragtime (1981), Reds (1981), Outland (1981), Yanks (1979), and A Bridge Too Far (1977).

In 1982, John accepted a writing assignment for CBS in Los Angeles. On the day he was scheduled to return to London, he auditioned for a role on the upcoming Cheers. At the time of his audition, the character of the postman did not exist. "Do you have a bar know-it-all?" he asked the creators. They didn't know what that meant, so John gave them five hilarious minutes of improv, demonstrating exactly what it meant. They loved what they saw. And so was born the lovable postman and trivia king, "Cliff Clavin" -an American icon.

In the history of television, only a handful of series have achieved the worldwide success of Cheers, on which John portrayed Cliff for the show's entire 11-year run. To this day, thanks to daily syndication, Cliff lives on as one of America's most loved characters.

As Hollywood's most versatile vocal talent, John is the only actor to voice a role in all of the Pixar films: the charming and witty "Hamm" the piggy bank in Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999); "P.T. Flea," the excitable circus ringmaster in A Bug's Life (1998); the lovable snow monster "Yeti" in Monsters, Inc.(2002); the ever-changing school of Moonfish in Finding Nemo (2003); the philosophical character "Underminer" in Pixar's Incredibles (2004); as a Mac-truck in Cars (2006); as "Mustafa," the head waiter in Ratatouille (2007); as "John," a human in WALL-E (2008); the construction worker in Up! (2009), and "Hamm" the piggy bank again in the upcoming Toy Story 3 (in production). Pixar artists always find a way to include John's recognizable eyebrows and mustache. As Pixar's creative head, John Lasseter, once said, "John is our good luck charm."

John has acted in many TV movies, including a starring role as miner Tom Foy in ABC's The Pennsylvania Miners' Story (2002); A Fare to Remember (1999); AMC's award-winning Remember Wenn (1998); NBC's How I Spent My Summer (1990); Going to the Chapel (1988) and Combat Academy (1986); Largo Entertainment's Under Pressure (1997) with Charlie Sheen; CBS' Timestalkers (1987); PBS Masterpiece Theatre's The Good Soldier (1997); BBC's Song of a Sourdough (1997) and The Detectives (1997); and Hallmark's Our First Christmas (2008).

As a much-loved American icon, John has appeared as himself on live episodes of Fox's Best Damn Sports Show (2004), TV Tales (2002), The Drew Carey Show (2001), E! True Hollywood Story (2000), The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1993), and Monty Python's Flying Circus: Live at Aspen (1998), as well as countless TV interviews.

John has guest-starred in a variety of TV shows including: 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (2003), That 70's Show (2001), Touched By An Angel (2000), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1997), Caroline in the City (1996), Sister, Sister (1995), Murphy Brown (1994), The Love Boat (1985), Magnum P.I. (1984), and Hill Street Blues (1982), among others.

John portrayed his character "Cliff" in Frasier (2002), eight NBC TV specials (1986-2002), The Simpson's (1994), Blossom (1993), Wings (1990), The Tortellis (1987), and St. Elsewhere (1985).

John executive produced and created Fox's The World's Most Incredible Animal Rescues (1997-1999). As host, creator and executive producer, John integrated life and art in Home and Garden TV series American Hobbies and Pastimes with John Ratzenberger (1994). One of the first reality shows, it gave an adventurous look at unusual hobbies, visiting with "regular" Americans in their homes. He created, executive produced, and starred in Fox's situation comedy pilot Locals (1994). He executive produced NBC's And Now You Know (1995), in which he focuses his camera on "people who know how to fix things."

John continues to direct, produce and write. He currently heads up his own production company, Fiddlers Bay Productions, located in Los Angeles. He has directed more than 50 TV episodes including several on: Cheers (1982), Down Home (1991), Madman of the People; Pearl (1996) and Sister, Sister (1994). John also directed single episodes of MTM's Evening Shade (1990) and Warner Brother's Sydney (1991).

John enjoyed a great run with ABC's Dancing with the Stars during the spring of 2007. He continues to dance when he can – but has given up his dreams of becoming a professional ballroom competitor!

Since climbing off the barstool at Cheers over a decade ago, John has immersed himself in what makes America great, a country in which a truck driver's son wound up being a TV icon with an audience, and influence and time to consider what's important. He thought, he traveled, he wrote: We've Got it Made in America, A Common Man's Salute to an Uncommon Country. His philosophy – "Wake up in the morning, put your hand to something useful, and take care of yourself and your family" – is at the heart of each selection in the book.

The book is a collection of essays and remembrances that come from his years on the road going visiting factory towns throughout the country for the Travel Channel show "John Ratzenberger's Made in America." John created the show in order to bring viewers the stories of the best products made in the U.S. It honors American men and women who invent and build the goods that are the backbone of our economy. In 2004 John began starring in this Travel Channel show, which was an immediate hit. It reached a milestone in television with the launch of its fifth and final season in 2008.

He is currently celebrating the release of his new film Village Barbershop. The film was written and directed by Chris Ford and stars John as a barber who gave up on life a long time ago…until he meets a young, cocktail waitress who give him a second lease on life – in spite of resistance. It launched in limited cities early 2009 and on DVD in March 2009.

During his free time, John is an avid sailor, fisherman, and billiards player. He plays the drums and belongs to a bagpipe band, as part of the Emerald Society. Sports such as karate, yoga and skeet shooting keep him active. He has one son and one daughter and lives outside of Los Angeles, but spends as much time as possible on his boat, cruising up and down the east coast.

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