Fisher-Price looks back at its 90-year history

The baby and pre-school company, founded in 1930, is celebrating its 90th anniversary

Written by Georgie Dobie

Posted 18.06.2020 | Business

Fisher-Price looks back at its 90-year history thumbnail

Fisher-Price celebrates turning 90 by remembering some of the key products and significant moments that shaped the worldwide renowned brand that it is today.

Look back with Mattel on the baby and infant pre-school brand’s history.  

1930  

The birth of Fisher-Price  

Once upon a time, in 1930, there was a man named Herman Fisher who thought the world needed better toys, toys that “appeal to the imagination, that do something new and surprising and funny”. So, he joined forces with Irving Price and Helen Schelle (the Schelle is silent, but we all know she was there!). 

1931 

Early toys make their debut

February 1931 

Dr. Doodle and Granny Doodle were among the first toys created by Fisher-Price. Called the 16 Hopefuls, these early toys made their debut at annual New York City Toy Fair. The toys reflect the design influence of Margaret Evans Price, nationally known children’s book illustrator and wife of Irving Price.   

11 March 1931 

On a cold, snowy day, the first shipment of toys left Fisher-Price, bound for R.H. Macy’s in New York City.  

1932 

First factory  

A small, unassuming building, located on a quiet residential street in East Aurora, was the first home of Fisher-Price. Located at 70 Church Street, it had once been a private residence, a copper shop and then a blacksmith shop. The new owners paid $5,000 for the building and began renovations, converting it to a toy factory. This tiny building housed both toy manufacturing and business offices for over 20 years.  

The Big Performing Circus is introduced. This was the first playset for Fisher-Price. It was jointly designed by Margaret Evans Price and Helen Schelle. 

1933 

Going global

Department store Harrod’s of London receives the first international sale of Fisher-Price toys. 

1934 

Fisher-Price Preschool Toys 

A 20-piece wooden block set was part of a collection of developmental based toys called Preschool Toys. Herman Fisher enlisted his mother to help design the original line. 

Herman Fisher’s mother, a teacher, suggests calling a new wooden block line Preschool Toys. The name is still used today.  

1935 

Leading the way in licensing

Hermann Fisher was an early pioneer of licensing. He creates the first partnership with Disney and the Mickey Mouse brand, with Donald Duck being the best seller, outpacing Mickey Mouse. This was the first of many Fisher-Price Disney toys to come. 

1936 

Silver lining  

The company earned its first profit of $3,000 on sales of Pop-Up Pluto. Herman Fisher shared it with his employees in the form of silver dollars to demonstrate to shop keepers how good business is good for the whole community. Today, employees with 20 years of service receive original profit-sharing silver dollars. 

1938 

Hot dog!  

Snoopy Sniffer is introduced taking the market by storm and becoming the toy sensation of the year. Offering great play value for the time, with moving feet and a spring tail, it remained in the line for 44 years with more than five million toys sold.  

1942 

Supporting society  

Just over a decade after its start, the company stopped making toys for nearly four years, putting its manufacturing skills to work on Corsair aircraft parts, ship fenders and medical supply crates for the troops in World War II. “If the war requires our entire plant, we will suspend toy-making for the duration,” said one of the founding partners Herman Fisher. To stay afloat during these four years, Herman Fisher comes up with an idea to write fun letters to retailers to keep them engaged and excited during this time, who stayed satisfied and excited for what was to come. 

1950 

New technology  

Fisher-Price became a trend setter with the introduction of plastic to the toy industry with Queen Buzzy Bee, famous for its translucid plastic wing into a wooden toy, introducing the start of something bigger. Plastic offered a whole new world of possibilities in the toy industry; it allowed to make more shapes and use more colours. When talking to Mums they even thought that Fisher-Price had a specific and unique type of plastic. 

1953 

Out of this world 

Long before there were men on the moon, there was a toy from Mars. Space Blazer, designed in 1953, was unique with a warming bell, spring antenna and a high compression, plastic dome concealing a little green Martian. 

1957 

Introducing three classics 

Corn Popper, Snap-Lock Beads and Xylophone are introduced, three innovative and fun toys that have successfully transcended generations. Fisher-Price was growing so fast that didn’t have enough space in the warehouse, so they rented space at local dairy farms, but one of the barns burned down and quickly East Aurora was covered in Corn Poppers! 

1959 

Population explosion  

Looky Fire Truck was the start of what we know today as Little People. Designers started to notice during testing sessions that children would try to remove the round heads from the fire truck, but they couldn’t as they were permanently attached. This led to the decision of taking the round headed concept out of the trucks and make full bodied figures out of them, little they knew that 60 years later more than two billion figures were sold. These figures were originally called Fisher-Price Play Family. The name was changed to Little People in the 1980s after parents would more often come into the store asking for “Fisher-Price little people”.   

The #983 Safety School Bus was the first to incorporate the figures into the line. 

1960 

Rock ‘n’ Roll  

A true classic, the Rock-A-Stack, is introduced in 1960. With brightly coloured rings and soft safe plastic, it teaches child order and sizes while it rocks from one side to the other. More than 52 million Rock-a-Stacks have been sold. In 2020 Rock-A-Stack will be 100 per cent recyclable and made from sugar cane as part of the company’s move to fully recyclable toys across its portfolio. 

1961 

Doing its research  

Fisher-Price has always pre-tested new toy ideas with children, but in 1961 it officially opened the Play Laboratory, a room designed especially for toy testing a first of its kind in the toy industry. 

The Play Lab came about because Herman Fisher’s mum was a pre-school teacher and Herm was inspired by her work and interested in observing children playing to better understand what inspired further exploration in kids. So, he decided to split his office and used half of it to observe kids as they played. Later, when the first R&D building was built, Herman Fisher made sure that there was a space for a nursery school, where there was a one-way mirror so that the children could be observed playing with the toys – something that was unique in the industry. 

Today, Fisher-Price has more than 15,000 sq. ft. of research facilities on campus and continues to test each and every toy that hit out shelves. 

1963 

Call me, baby! 

The Chatter Telephone rings and rolls its eyes as toddlers pull it along. It was originally named the "Talk Back Telephone" but was changed shortly after its production because parents didn't like the idea of kids 'talking back' to them. This is another of Fisher-Price classic toys that is still today on shelves, among the updates the team wanted to bring through the years, push buttons were inserted but both adults and children rejected it and the team had to go back and put the roaring dial on. 

1968 

Down on the farm  

The #915 Play Family Farm was introduced. A classic Barn that is still in the Fisher-Price toy line today after several iterations, it continues to be a beloved classic showing a classic American scene. The barn is the background in the recent Let’s Be Kids brand advert inviting adults back into the world of childhood.  

1969 

New leadership  

After finding a buyer he considered suitable to take the reins of his beloved company, Herman Fisher retired as chairman of the Board of Fisher-Price Toys. With the strength and backing of the Quaker Oats worldwide brand, Fisher-Price began a decade of expansion and acquisitions, setting the stage for the company to become a world leader in toys and plastics manufacturing. During this time, the company increased its sales and advertising more than ten-fold.  

1973 

Baby talk  

Fisher-Price enters the crib and playpen category with 14 toys specifically developed for babies. Toys include the ever popular: Music Box Mobile, Activity Center, Chime Ball and Happy Apple. 

1979 

Turning the table on electronics  

Keeping up with major changes in the industry, Fisher-Price introduced electronics just for kids. The innovative, solid state Fisher-Price Phonograph was introduced as the finest child’s phonograph on the market. Able to withstand the roughest play, it became the forerunner of our popular Kid-Tough line of audio-visual products, specifically designed for children. Features include a tone arm with a constant pressure stylus (to minimise scratches) a diamond needle that locked in place with the lid closed and two record speeds made this record player a staple for future DJs everywhere.  

1980 

Mixed tapes  

The 80s sees the arrival of the Tape Recorder – a revolutionary toy, mixing adult electronic concepts to child-friendly versions, durable and easy enough to use for children. This modern and innovative take on toys, found their way into even the most basic toys, animating the play action in a whole new way. The mandate to designers were that tech would only be integrated if it added intrinsic play value – not just for tech sake to be trendy. A mandate still true today  

1984 

Baby’s got gear  

Entering the baby gear business was a natural extension of the Fisher-Price business. In-depth knowledge of babies and caregivers has helped Fisher-Price become one of the world’s leading brands in high chairs, infant swings, entertainers, bouncer seats, baths, potties and nursery monitors. 

1990 

Summertime fun 

Many of the classic toys that have been designed at Fisher-Price are based upon childhood memories and experiences of the designers. Such is the case with the #2022 Bubble Mower. The designer who conceived the idea of having bubbles blowing from a lawn mower remembered the large plumes of smoke pouring from a neighbour’s oil burning lawn mower during summers when he was a young boy.  

1991 

Independence Day  

1 July 1991, Fisher-Price becomes an independent company, traded on the New York Stock Exchange.  

1993 

Future of play  

Mattel, maker of classic toys such as Barbie and Hot Wheels acquires Fisher-Price. 

1997 

Rescue Heroes  

A new line of action figures for boys is introduced. Rescue Heroes figures win the hearts of parents as the first non-violent action figures – and kids think they’re real cool, too. 

The Little People friends continue to evolve with even more realistic detail as well as individual characteristics. The newest characters now have unique sculpted details such as arms, hands and facial expressions. 

1999 

It’s a great time to be a girl!  

As Fisher-Price continued to develop playset themes for boys, girls were not about to be overlooked. The re-styled Loving Family Dollhouse was a realtor’s dream. Seven rooms plus a fireplace, bath and built-in-appliances. Terrific curb appeal! Best of all it had location, location, location. Just fold up the sides and the house could be stored in your closet.  

2003 

Bounce bounce baby 

The Jumperoo bounces onto store shelves bringing a safe way for babies to enjoy jumping fun. This revered baby equipment used by hundreds of parents around the world, is one of the most popular items today as it allows babies for the first-time to get to sit upright and see the world. The innovative invention came as houses evolved and were no longer structurally strong to hang something from a doorway. Fisher-Price knew infants love bouncing, so a free-standing unit was brought to life so that parents could put it anywhere in the house and let baby have fun while jumping in a safe environment. 

2004 

Laughing all the way  

Laugh & Learn toys combine basic learning concepts with fun, everyday themes. Puppy soon becomes an icon in more than 130 countries and 37 languages and continues to be among Fisher-Price top toys more than 16 years later. 

2008 

Imagine that 

Imaginext toys take a walk on the wild side when remote controlled dinosaurs join the pack. Fisher-Price has the official license for Jurassic World on the Imaginext range.  

2011 

Peep our new friends 

Thomas & Friends arrives in town when HIT Entertainment joins the Fisher-Price brand family.  

2013 

More little people friends 

A multi-cultural cast of characters joins the Little People crew for more adventures and fun. 

2014  

Installing an upgrade  

Smart Stages technology transforms Laugh & Learn toys so parents can choose the level that is more appropriate to their child. There are a variety of songs, sounds and phrases within the three levels offered: explore, encourage and pretend. 

2015 

Dance like BeatBo 

Who likes to move? BeatBo does! Fisher-Price creates a futuristic friend for pre-schoolers that even allows mummy or baby to record a phrase, and he'll remix it into his favourite song. And through all the play, BeatBo's introducing baby to letters, colours, counting, music, cause and effect and much more. 

2016 

Introducing coding for kids!  

Code-a-pillar is one of the Think and Learn toys from Fisher-Price that goes beyond ABCs and 123s to help children learn how to think independently. Each toy fosters 21st century skills like curiosity, experimentation and problem solving in ways kids haven't seen before. The toy becomes a worldwide must-have among the cool toys today 

2019 

More fun together  

Introducing the Linkimals toys – a crew of favourite animal friends who love to sing and play together. These interconnected toys will sing ‘to each other’ when in close proximity creating a fun play group for baby.  

Let’s Be Kids 

Fisher-Price unveils a new brand campaign with Let’s Be Kids adverts which seek to invite everyone back into the world of childhood. Also, something else is different: Fisher-Price logo and look get an update too. 

2020 

Spotlighting key workers 

In 2020, during the global Covid-19 pandemic, Fisher-Price once again contributes to society by deploying their design teams to produce face masks to help meet the significant demand for these supplies. Additionally, Fisher-Price releases a special-edition line of collectible action figures and Little People Community Champions called the “Thank you heroes” #ThankYouHeroes. All net proceeds will go to #FirstRespondersFirst.  

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