If you’ve ever been in the vicinity of a small child, you’ve probably tripped over something made by Fisher-Price. Founded in 1930, the company has specialized in imagination-stirring diversions for tots. Check out 11 facts about things that would make any toddler drool.
1. Fisher-Price was co-founded by a mayor.
Herman Fisher was a salesman who wanted to raise the bar for toy quality in the 1930s, but a bid to buy the toy firm he was vice president and general manager of, All Fair Toys in Rochester, failed. While touring the company offices in East Aurora, New York, town mayor Irving Price liked Fisher’s pitch to craft better, more imaginative playthings. He decided to back Fisher’s dream with $100,000 in raised capital. By the mid-1930s, the company was booming.
2. Fisher-Price probably should have been called Fisher-Price-Schelle.
Helen Schelle was a toy store manager and designer in Binghamton, New York who worked for Fisher’s old toy firm. When Fisher-Price was founded, Schelle was named secretary and treasurer, contributing product ideas and helping to conceive of their initial launch of 16 toys. Even more importantly, she had valuable contacts in the industry that helped the start-up get on its feet. On their website, Fisher-Price offers a conciliatory note about her absence in the company name: “Sorry, Helen.”
3. The Fisher-Price Snoopy Sniffer was an early hit.
Fisher-Price had great success with a series of string-pulled wooden toys that would bob their heads or move when tugged, but none had more impact [PDF] than the Snoopy Sniffer, a charming beagle introduced in 1938 that kept his nose to the ground when trailing behind his owner. “Snoopy” was apparently a popular dog name of the era: It pre-dated Charles Schulz's famous Peanuts comic strip by 12 years.
4. Fisher-Price made military equipment.
World War II brought a change in priorities for many manufacturers, and Fisher-Price was no exception. The company ceased production of nearly all their toys during wartime, instead using their resources to make ammunition crates, medical chests, and parts for combat planes [PDF].
5. Fisher-Price pioneered the play lab concept.
In 1961, Fisher-Price decided to formalize what most toy companies should have already known: Focus group testing should consist of subjects with poop in their pants. Their Play Lab invites kids to interact with new product designs to assess their playability, ease of use, and creative spark. Roughly 1200 ideas are tested every year.
6. Fisher-Price once ran out of wood.
Most Depression-era toys were made out of wood or tin. But after World War II, when veterans returned home eager to establish a quiet domestic life, they created the housing boom and wood became scarce. Fisher-Price began experimenting with plastic by making the wings of their Buzzy Bee pull toy out of the material. By the end of the 1950s, half of their toys were made with the easily-sculpted stuff, which would grow to dominate the toy industry.
7. The Fisher-Price Little People came off of a bus.
The tiny, stylized plastic population of Fisher-Price’s playsets were originally affixed to toys and not removable. But with the arrival of the Safety Bus in 1959, kids could take out the passengers and imagine all kinds of possible activities with them. (The driver, however, stayed put.) It inspired the company to create an entire line of sets with the mobile, chunky-headed figures, although diversity took a little while to arrive: The first black Little People figure wasn’t introduced until the 1970s.
8. The Fisher-Price Little People Farm once lost its moo.
For a brief period, the company’s trademark farm playset removed the familiar moo sound that triggered when kids opened the tiny barn doors. According to Fisher-Price, the change led to “udder outrage” by parents; the sound was quickly reinserted.
9. Fisher-Price made a cheap video camera treasured by filmmakers.
Fisher-Price’s PXL-2000 camcorder stretched the company’s typical demographic by targeting teenage consumers who wanted an inexpensive ($100) video camera during the camcorder craze of the late 1980s. Recording images on audio cassette tape, the picture captured on a PXL-2000 is a bit of a pixelated mess, and there were so many technical issues that the company quickly discontinued it. While kids weren’t happy, the sketchy image was the kind of avant-garde filter embraced by artists. Dubbed “Pixelvision,” it was used by filmmakers in the fine art world for moody tone pieces. On May 19, you can attend the 25th annual PXL THIS film festival at Los Angeles' Echo Park Film Center.
10. Fisher-Price acquired the Corn Popper for just $50.
Spend any amount of time in a toddler-occupied household and you’ve probably heard the familiar tock-tock-tock of the company’s Corn Popper, a two-wheeled contraption that bounces balls around in a sealed dome at irritating decibels. Fisher-Price acquired the rights from designer Arthur Holt for $50 in 1957.
11. One early Fisher-Price toy can fetch $9500.
The next time you’re at a yard sale, keep an eye out for Push Cart Pete, one of the company’s earliest pull toys made out of Ponderosa pine. Debuting in 1936, it’s rare enough to command $9500 on the collectible market. If you can find a Donald and Donna Duck pair from 1937—Fisher-Price licensed Disney characters early on—you could score $5000.