Excursion through a Century of Children’s Bedrooms

A doll’s world created for the Nuremberg
Toy Fair in the mid1950s (photo: Roman
Excursion through a Century
of Children’s Bedrooms
Toys. A look back to the early years of the 20th century shows toys made of metal
and wood. For the most part they are produced at home, very few can afford machines. Celluloid and over the years other plastics change the face of the toy industry. Today many companies produce their articles on automated machines and
in large quantities from plastics.
lay is not just a way of passing time,
play is also an educational means.
Play helped girls in the 19th and 20th
centuries learn their domestic obligations
and the boys received a foretaste of crafts
or engineering in good time. In 1909, Max
Schneider described the essence of toys in
the Deutsche Spielwaren-Zeitung as follows: “On the one hand we can speak of a
natural function of the toy that serves to
satisfy the play instinct, but on the other
hand the toy can be seen as having a social
function whose solution belongs to the
Translated from Kunststoffe 5/2010, pp. 128–133
Article as PDF-File at www.kunststoffeinternational.com; Document Number: PE110393
field of education.” The engineer distinguishes between four types of toy: Dormant (doll), moving (ball), mechanical
(steam engine) and physical (model railway, music box). Hereby not only animals
and people are imitated in miniature, but
also major technical achievements [1].
First Dolls of Celluloid
In this period, celluloid is the welcome
material. The lightweight material has
great elasticity and a high absorption capacity for colors. Dolls’ heads, arms and
legs, balls or spinning tops are made from
this material. The Rheinische Gummiund Celluloidfabrik (RGCF for short, today: Schildkröt-Puppen GmbH, Rauenstein, Germany) is a well-known repre-
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sentative. In 1896 the company produces
the first celluloid doll using the “blowthrough” method. Properties such as
break proof, washable, color-fast and hygienic help the material achieve a predominant position in doll production [2].
The invention of the first celluloid is
attributed to Alexander Parkes in 1856.
But it is only John Wesley Hyatt who first
really learns how to use the material properly – as a substitute material for ivory. In
1870 he has it registered under the brand
name Celluloïd for the Celluloid Manufacturing Company. The main constituents are nitrocellulose and camphor
as plasticizer. The material is formed with
heat. That significantly increases the degree of freedom for forming – a first step
towards mass production [3].
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By 1913, Germany has an annual production of toys of around USD 32 million. Toys to a value of USD 24.5 million
are exported, with the USA as main customer.Almost one-third of the exports go
overseas [4]. But the USA is not only the
largest customer, but also the strongest
competitor. The predominantly – with
few exceptions – cottage-industry doll
production in Germany does not exist in
the USA, everything is immediately implemented on a large scale [5]. In 1859
there are twelve factories in the whole
country, by 1914 290 companies are already producing toys. The main customers are Great Britain and Canada [4].
The doll image here is quite different, less
lady-like. Furthermore, American “character babies” are visually a true image of
the reality [5].
Around 1915, the celluloid balls become stronger competitors for rubber
balls in Europe. They are produced in
every color and with patterns. Completely new are the delicately painted relief
balls and picture balls with characters
from fairy tales such as “Max and Moritz”
or “Struwwelpeter”. A wide variety of
swimming animals and birds is also available, as are animals of different types and
sizes with fixed or moving limbs or even
walking animals [6].
Fig. 2. Celluloid hollow parts can be produced
by blow molding; a blow forging press is used
to hold the mold together and to be able to further increase the pressure [15]
Fig. 1. Kämmer & Reinhardt develop a new doll, the character doll: The first of their kind were
the Babies 700 (left). In the 1920s and 1930s, exotic dolls became modern (right, producer: Bruno
Schmidt, 1930s) [3]
Character Dolls and Soldiers
The idea of a new type of doll comes from
the Puppenfabrik Kämmer & Reinhardt
in Waltershausen, Germany: The character doll [7]. In 1909 the name is registered
as a trade mark. The sculptor, Prof.Arthur
Lewin-Funcke, who never appears in any
official function, models the first character dolls: The birth of the Babies 100
(made from celluloid: 700 Series, Fig. 1
left). The series of character dolls continues up to 1929 [3].
A large number of companies register
their development as utility models. The
Bayrische Celluloidwarenfabrik, formerly Albert Wacker, in Nuremberg, Germany, for example, registers a “tubular toy
figure with integral voice mechanism”[8]
and a “toy spinning top of celluloid”
around 1910 [9].
The First World War weakens the German toy industry. War loans, import bans
and bankruptcies make their impacts.
Nevertheless, the companies try to take
advantage of the war events and produce
whole regiments of toy soldiers with guns,
cannons or pistols. During this period,
the production capacities in the USA increase enormously, as imports are reduced, but not the demand for toys [4].
In the 1920s, many German toy producers rebuild their companies and extend
their product range: dolls are now produced with a different skin color (producer: Celluloidfabrik Dr. P. Hunaeus, mid1920s and Bruno Schmidt, 1930s; Fig. 1
right) [3].
Two Sheets Form a Hollow Part
In particular, however, the production
methods become more sophisticated. A
W 2010 Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich, Germany
typical 1920s product is the rattle. In order to manufacture celluloid rattles use is
made of the blow molding process,
among others. By injecting steam into two
mold halves the hollow part is created.
Two thin celluloid sheets are placed on
top of one another and fixed to the lower half of the heated mold.After fixing the
upper part, a blowing tube is pushed between the sheets at the edge. A blow forging press holds the mold together (Fig. 2).
The steam (or hot water) flows between
the sheets and inflates them, condensing
partially. Impact pressure from the outside weld together the edges held by the
mold. The handle is made from sticks or
strips of celluloid [10]. The molds are
generally split into two halves. If the toy
geometry is more complex, they can also
have more parts. In order that the mold
halves do not cool down, both the lower
part (platen) of the press and the moving
upper part (ram) are hollow. Steam or hot
water is admitted to the two parts, cooling is effected with cold water [11].
Thermoplastics Extend
the Scope
The Second World War brings toy production in Germany to a standstill again.
Many companies are transformed into armaments factories. In the USA, plastics
continue to expand, particularly the thermoplastic compounds. The vast majority of the toys produced are not mechanical, i.e. they have no spring or other drive
mechanism.An advantage of the new material is not only the possibility of mass
production. The variety of colors, outstanding hygienic properties, safety (sheet
metal toys have sharp edges) and the striving of the department stores not to have
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Kunststoffe international 5/2010
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celluloid dolls in their stocks (fire hazard,
strict handling for the fire insurance) enhance the use of thermoplastics. Even
during the war, England also starts to
make toys from injection molding compounds, to be followed a short time later
by France, Italy and Japan [12].
At the Toy Exhibition held in New York
in March 1946, one in every four toy produced in the USA is made of plastic. And
that does not include the toys that are
comprised of single parts made of plastic. Observers attribute this to the competition within the branch. No other industry is anywhere near as enterprising in
the search for new materials and new toy
ideas. Cellulose derivatives and polystyrene (PS) are used in the field of “cheap
small toys”. Vinyl polymers are used for
doll’s pram hoods, rag dolls and for the
production of balls [13]. Celluloid continues to be preferred for blow-molded
toys such as dolls and swimming animals.
The manufacturers use cellulose acetate
(CA) to produce children’s rattles, furniture for doll’s houses or soldiers. Toy cars
and trucks are made from phenolic molding compounds (PF) and molded, unbreakable dolls and inflatable animals are
made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) [14].
The Philosophers’ Stones
The toy industry starts to be rebuilt again
in Germany after 1945, particularly in the
area around Nuremberg and Fürth. Attempts are made to copy American toys,
but sales are not particularly encouraging. At the Toy Trade Fair in Nuremberg
in March 1952 it is predominantly models of cars and trucks in various shapes
and sizes that are on show. But equipment
for dolls’ house kitchens of PS (producer: geobra Brandstätter GmbH & Co. KG,
Zirndorf), dolls’ shops, scales, small telephones, motor boats and ships are also to
be seen. “Rocking horses” that run down
a slope were presented by the SpritzgussWerk GmbH, Weißenburg [12].
The economic miracle at the end of the
1940s and early 1950s generated an upswing for plastics again. Toy manufacturers everywhere worked on new ideas. Josef
Dehm, for example, developed the first
plastic building bricks at the end of the
1940s. He named them Idema as a play
on his own name. Made from bakelite,
they were similar to real bricks; recesses
and pins stabilized the bricks. Dehm used
roll pins to join the bricks. Later he replaced bakelite with more flexible PS. Furthermore, injection molding is more precise and the bricks hold together without
The Fine Fiber, a Tube
and New Curves
additional parts. In 1952, Dehm patents
the bricks [15].
At the same time, Ole Kirk Christiansen was also working on a prototype
for a brick in Billund, Denmark (Fig. 3).
The planned base material, CA, however,
held together very poorly. The insertion
of cylindrical geometries between which
the existing pins are clamped increases the
stability. After a development period of
nine years, Christiansen patents the Lego
brick in Copenhagen in 1958 (Lego is a
combination of the Danish words ‘leg’
and ‘godt’ meaning “play well”). The
bricks come onto the market in the same
year. The first system is the Lego town.
Later wheels (1961), larger bricks for
smaller children (Duplo, 1967) and figures (1974, the present-day form dates
back to 1978) follow. Since 1963, all the
bricks have been made from acrylonitrile-
Fig. 4. The Steiff bear Cosy Orsi from the
1950s is produced from the PAN synthetic fiber,
Dralon (Fig.: www.teddybaer-antik.de)
In the mid-1950s, the synthetic fiber finds its way to
the teddy bears. The Margarete
Steiff GmbH, Giengen, Germany,
produces the first teddy bear from the
synthetic fiber, Dralon, and christens him
Cosy Orsi (Fig. 4). He is the great-grandfather of hundreds of teddy bear variants
that many companies produce until well
into the 1970s [17]. The synthetic fiber is
made from polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and
is developed in 1942 by I.G. Farben. From
1950, Bayer AG markets the fibers under
the name Dralon. Polyacrylic fabrics are
characterized by a soft, woolly touch and
have good heat insulation, while at the
same time being light and water-repelling.
A real hit is another toy – or better
leisure accessory – in the early 1960s: The
hula-hoop, invented in America in 1958.
In Germany, Horst Brandstätter works on
a process and machine for the production
of the round hoops. He designs a machine
that forms a soft, hot “plastic” tube into a
hula-hoop. The blow molding process,
previously used only for bottles, opens up
new possibilities for toy production. In
the following years, geobra Brandstätter
produces the first completely enclosed
racecar, small boats and tractors. The first
steerable ride-on tractor for children, a
copy of a real Porsche tractor, also comes
onto the market [18].
Also at the end of the 1950s, a new type
of doll appears on the market, roughly 12
inches tall and with noticeable body proportions [19]. The American Ruth Handler, who together with her husband, Elliot Handler, and Harold Matson founds
Mattel in 1945, provided the idea. On a
journey through Europe in 1958, she sees
in a shop window the doll Lilli that the
Spielzeugfabrik Hausser, Neustadt near
Coburg, Germany, had brought onto the
market three years earlier on the basis of a
drawing.The figure was created by the caricaturist,Reinhard Beuthien,who drew her
as a stop-gap for the first issue of the German “Bild-Zeitung” (24 June 1952).
Back in America, Ruth Handler creates
the dress-up doll, Barbie (Fig. 5). Named >
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butadiene-styrene copolymer – ABS for
short. This matt gloss plastic is very hard
and has a scratchproof and bite proof
surface. Crucial for the production are
the injection molds. The maximum deviation must not exceed one-thousandth
of a millimeter [16].
Fig. 3. 1947 in Billund/Denmark:
Ole Kirk Christiansen works
on a prototype for a building
brick; nine years later he
patents the ABS Lego building
brick (photo: Lego)
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applied by tampon printing, Hans Beck, Head of R&D at geobra
every color in each individ- Brandstätter (Fig. 8). Patent application is
ual motif requiring a sepa- made as early as February 1972. The comrate production step. A co- plete range consists of 95 % plastic, preoperation with the automo- dominantly ABS, but also PS, PA, PE and
tive industry permits true- similar (PVC-free). Building workers,
to-original licenses in the knights and Indians are the first figures.
fields of Formula 1, classic Two dots and a line form the face. In the
automobiles or touring cars. early years, information sheets are includSome cars are equipped with ed in the packagings to explain the idea
genuine headlights and rear behind the figures.
lights, and in many cases can
In the following years, plastics are simbe tuned. Since 1999, Car- ply THE materials. More and more toy
rera belongs to the Stadl- producers take advantage of the properbauer Spiel- und Freizeitar- ties of resistance to breaking, low weight,
tikel GmbH, Nuremberg, easy cleaning and practically unlimited
Germany [23].
possibilities in the form and color [27].
In order not to have to The methods, in particular, become more
give his customers the nor- and more sophisticated, for example the
mal presents every time, multi-color injection molding of figures
such as kirsch and dry ham, [28] or microprecision injection moldProfessor Artur Fischer (in- ings for model railways [29]. The materiventor of the fischer dowel als also expand the spectrum. On the one
in 1958) develops a slightly hand, more and more engineering plasdifferent type of kit. In 1966, tics are employed, such as polyoxy meththe Kit 400 was presented as ylene (POM) or polybutylene terephthathe first of its kind at the Toy late (PBTP) in model making due to their
Fair (Fig. 6). Apart from grey running and wear properties [29, 30], and
building blocks, it contains on the other hand technical compounds
Fig. 5. If we take it very strictly, Barbie was created as a copy
of a stop-gap for the Bild-Zeitung – right the first Barbie from
axles, wheels, gear wheels start to be used, for example with 50 %
1958, left fifty years later (photo: Mattel)
and building elements that iron powder or ABS filled with glass
allow technical motifs to be spheres [31].
after the nickname of her daughter, Bar- copied. Produced by injection molding,
bara, the first dolls are presented at the the basic bricks are made from ABS and Under Control
American Toy Fair in New York on 9 PA. Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are
March 1959. A Barbie cost three dollars used for wheels or chain links, the hull of The wide variety of plastics applications
(at that time equivalent to roughly DM the ship models is made from expandable and the complex design of the toys, however, have brought the topic of safety in12). She has blonde or brown hair, with a polypropylene (EPP) [24].
to the discussion. The greatest points of
ponytail and curly fringe in both cases,
criticism frequently raised by the superand is made completely of plastic. Her A Red Racecar and Small People
visory authorities in relation to chilhead form with closed mouth and modeled eyelashes is a copy of Lilli, also with The 1970s start with a car, with the Bob- dren’s toys are the risk of inhaling or
feminine forms and strong makeup. She by-Car to be more precise, manufactured swallowing small parts, and an excessive
is followed two years later by Ken, named by the Big-Spielwarenfabrik, Fürth (to- exposure to chemicals, in particular to
after the Handler’s son. Over the years, day Burghaslach, Germany) (Fig. 7). phthalates. For example, saliva must not
complete plastic worlds are built up Wheels and body are produced by extru- cause any chemical reactions. Furtheraround Barbie, so that the doll becomes sion blow molding of polyethylene (PE-HD), steering wheel
a real mass toy [20].
and steering unit are injection
molded from polypropylene
Formula 1 on Rails
(PP). PE-HD is light and
Just as popular as Barbie is with girls is weather-resistant, and resistthe Carrera racetrack in the boys’ (men’s) ant to breaking, splintering or
world. In 1963, Hermann Neuhierl pres- denting. Furthermore, it is reents the electric powered car racetrack in sistant to perspiration and
scale 1:32 (producer: Neuhierl GmbH & saliva. The first of these modCo. KG, Fürth, Germany) [21]. Original el cars rolls off the production
racetracks such as Monza or Indiana are line in 1972: 60 cm long, red
copied. Production is in China. The chas- with a white steering wheel
sis of the matching car is of glass fiber-re- [25].
Two years later, a toy pro- Fig. 6. The inventor of the fischer dowel presents the first Kit
inforced polyamide (PA), the body of ABS
[22]. The cars are all assembled manual- ducer presents new plastic fig- 400 in 1966, the gray basic bricks are injection molded from
ly. The decorative elements and motifs are ures. Playmobil is an idea from ABS and PA (photo: fischertechnik)
W 2010 Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich, Germany
© Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich
Kunststoffe international 5/2010
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Fig. 7. 60 cm long, red with a white
steering wheel: That is how the first of
these children’s racecars rolled off the
production line in 1972 (left), today older children start in the Formula BigBobby-Car and achieve speeds of up to
105 km/h with their tuned racers
(photos: Big)
more, compliance with
safety regulations with
respect to acoustics, inflammability, electrical
and electromagnetic
safety is increasingly
being demanded.
A well-known example of the great importance attached to the
subject of safety in the meantime is the
huge recall campaign by Mattel in summer 2007. Around 21 million toys of the
brands Barbie and Fisher Price produced
in China had to be recalled by the company; 2.8 million due to paint with an excessively high lead content, the rest due to the
risk of swallowing magnets. Around 65 %
of the toys from Mattel are produced in
China, in some cases in the company’s
own factories, in some cases by sub-suppliers. Mattel is one of the first Western
companies to operate factories in China.
The first Barbie doll was produced there
in 1959 [32].
Safety tests, however, are very timeconsuming and expensive. With a CE
symbol – introduced in 1993 – on his
product, a toy producer declares at his
own responsibility that this product com-
plies with the fundamental safety and
health regulations of the relevant EU Directives. Although the CE is mandatory,
it does not generally presuppose external
testing before the market launch. Only
when the CE symbol is combined with
an additional identification number has
the product also been tested by an independent institute. The award of the CE
symbol has no time limitation and no interim tests are generally carried out.
The GS symbol was developed in
Germany in 1977 as a consumer-oriented test symbol. It stands for tested safety and the application is voluntary. An
independently approved institute such
as the TÜV Rheinland LGA Beteiligungs
GmbH, Nuremberg, tests the toy and
certifies that it complies with the fundamental safety and health regulations
of the German Appliance and Product
Safety Act (GPSG). In addition, the
product is monitored at regular intervals. The test symbol is granted for a
maximum of five years [41]. The European Parliament adopted a new directive
on the safety of toys on December 18,
2008. The Directive had last been
amended in 1988.
A Broad Field
Today, in the age of the World Wide Web,
whole worlds are created around a single
toy. The expectations of the children increase, influenced by the cross-medial
world. The one-time educational aid has
now made way for a complex and tricky
toy. The engineering and development effort that goes in to many of these toys can
often not be seen. Plastics with their properties open up a wide field of possibilities,
particularly in design. While plastic toys
were just a small segment of the market
at the beginning of the 20th century, today – 100 years later – they dominate the
The complete literature reference list can
be downloaded free of charge at
Fig. 8. The building worker (left) is one of the first 7.5 cm tall figures from the Playmobil range
molded from ABS; in 2010 the company diverts from the trapezoidal form that has existed for many
years and becomes more figure-accentuating (right), and a new body form is developed from the
neck down (photo: geobra Brandstätter)
Kunststoffe international 5/2010
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1981, has worked for the editorial
department of Kunststoffe since
March 2009. Following an apprenticeship as a process mechanic for plastics and rubber technology, she studied mechanical engineering
at Technische Universität Dresden. Her particular focus was on lightweight construction.
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