One of the most famous American toymakers, Fisher-Price has been part of children's play for almost seven decades. While Fisher-Price is still creating low-cost and durable playthings for infants and preschoolers, older Fisher-Price toys are now prized collectibles, coveted by the same owners—now adult toy aficianados—who once clutched them in crib and playpen. From Granny Doodle and Snoopy Snuffer in the 1930s, through the decades with Tick Tock Clock, Pull-a-Tune Xylophone, and Little People, to computer software for toddlers in the 1990s, the Fisher-Price name has long been in the forefront of imaginative and educational play for children.
The company was founded in 1931 in East Aurora, New York, by Herman G. Fisher, Irving Price, and Helen M. Schelle, who began with $5,000 and the idea of creating an innovative line of toys for very young children. Though they managed to build their factory and began producing toys during the difficult Depression years, few had money to spend on luxuries, and during World War II the factory was refitted to produce goods needed for the war effort. By the 1950s, however, toy production was up and running again, which coincided with the arrival of the Baby Boomer generation during a more prosperous period when more disposable income was available for spending on leisure-time products like toys. With the demand for toys skyrocketing, Fisher-Price was forced to build another plant. For the first time, the company began to make its own metal parts for toys and to make them with an exciting and popular new material—plastic.
By the 1960s, Fisher-Price produced twice as many toys as in the three previous decades combined. Discretionary income of American families would continue to vary, but by the 1960s the idea had been firmly established that "store-bought" toys were necessities for children. Television commercials for toys began to be aimed at children themselves, who became the best lobbyists for toy companies. In 1969 Quaker Foods bought the toy company, and the 1970s saw the opening of new Fisher-Price plants in New York, Texas, Mexico, Belgium, and England.
Much of Fisher-Price's success was due to its focus on and understanding of toys for infants and preschool children. The darkest days for the company came in the 1980s when it attempted to branch out into toys for older children. This new line included make-up kits and battery-powered sports cars, and even a toy video camera that used audiotapes that could be played back through a television. The new products failed miserably. This failure, coupled with large order cancellations caused by Fisher-Price's inability to meet delivery deadlines, gave competing toy manufacturers Mattel and Hasbro a significant advantage. In 1991, Fisher-Price went back to its specialty: producing simple toys beloved by infants and toddlers. The company streamlined its operation and regained its status among toymakers. In 1993, competing toy giant Mattel acquired Fisher-Price and continues to expand the Fisher-Price niche in the United States and abroad.
As toys have grown more and more sophisticated, Fisher-Price has kept up, producing educational computer games for two and three-year-olds. But the Fisher-Price standbys remain its most popular items. The Bubble Mower, which emits a stream of soap bubbles as it "mows" the floor, the Corn Popper, a clear plastic dome in which colored balls jump energetically as it is pushed, and Snap Lock Beads, which teach dexterity, are among the favorites. Perhaps the most popular of all are the Little People, small wooden figures that are little more than colorful heads on wooden pegs that fit into various vehicles and toy houses. Created decades ago, the older Little People are valued by adult toy collectors, while the newer ones, little changed except for racial diversity and wider plastic bodies, are equally in demand in the playroom. These toys are durable in every sense of the word, their appeal is diminished neither by time, nor by the vigorous chewing of a two-year-old.
Fox, Bruce R., and Murray, John J. A Historical, Rarity, and Value Guide: Fisher-Price 1931-1963. New York, Books America, 1993.
"The Magical World Of Fisher-Price: Collectible and Memorabilia Web Site." Unofficial Fisher-Price website. http://www.mwfp.com. May 1999.