Fisher-Price turns 90 years young!
Fisher Price 90th Anniversary: The toys that evolved but that we still love today
By Peter Jenkinson, journalist and Europe’s leading Toyologist
If you have ever been in the vicinity of kids, or indeed been one yourself, the chances are that you’ll have stumbled over, tidied up or played with a Fisher-Price toy at some point. The company is celebrating its 90th birthday in the business of play this week and, whilst much has changed over the past nine-decades the company still retains some of its original features.
Started in 1930 in East Aurora, New York, the mayor, Irving Price, was looking to invest during the tough times the Great Depression was creating and, together with Herman Fisher and Helen Schelle they formed the iconic toy company. The company headquarters remains to this day in the village, it’s long outgrown the original premises where they created a line-up of toys called the 16 Hopefuls.
The enduring appeal of many Fisher-Price playthings is clearly evident, many are still with us today, mainly aimed at kids of course but also attracting nostalgia seekers too. With retro being pretty de rigueur plenty across the expansive Fisher-Price range has strong appeal with parents and gift-givers drawn to the iconic colours and designs.
So, which of their toys have remained and evolved that we still seek out today?
The baby range at Fisher-Price has played a key part in their growth over the years, in 2003 was the Jumperoo, a name now widely used as the generic term for these baby-bouncing entertainment centres. As houses have evolved over the years, they became too structurally un-sound to have anything hanging from the doorways so, the freestanding unit was created allowing babies for the first-time to get to sit upright and see the world! Today, they have an impressive array of themes to offer and these multi-sensory devices with plenty to play with are fully equipped with digital sounds and lights, what a great place to literally hang-out.
Since 1960, this absolute classic has been rocking and rolling around. The beauty of this toy lies in its simplicity, starting life as a six-rubber ring stacking toy, each brightly coloured and an uneven base to challenge hand/eye co-ordination. To-date, over 52 million have been sold and continue to be a best-seller across the world. This toy has had a range extension with the standard unit having five rings and a larger six-ring version that’s twice the size. This year, the Rock-A-Stack will be 100% recyclable and made from plant-based plastic as part of the company’s move to fully recyclable toys across its portfolio.
For more than 27 million people this has been their first phone, a contemporary new design was given to it in recent years, but the classic unit still remains in production. The pull-along toy was originally called the Talk Back Telephone, but parents weren’t keen on their kids talking back so it underwent an early name change. Overall little has altered about the functionality of the phone, the eyes move as it is pulled along and makes the same chatter noise. Designers only added the pull-along string as they noticed during testing that they were using the receiver to drag the phone around. Mike Sullivan, Director of Global Brand Marketing at Fisher-Price tells us: “The design team did re-engineer it at one point putting a more modern touchpad on it, but it was rejected so we reverted back to the iconic rotary dial”. Its appearance in Toy Story 3 led to a resurgence in the popularity of the classic Chatter Telephone.
The mechanical part of these iconic music machines meant that for a few decades Fisher-Price was the biggest importer of Swiss Music boxes. The record player in its brightly coloured version came along in 1975 and apart from a paint job still spins its discs as it always did. We’ve not yet seen the engineering embedded to enable us to turn up classics such as Jack and Jill to 11, but new technology has created a new-found interest in The Record Player. Today, with the aid of a 3D printer, you can now create classics to play on the machine including Stairway to Heaven, the Star Wars theme tune, and You are my Sunshine.
Little People Farm
Originally called the Play Family line when introduced in 1959, the Little People had this name change in response to consumers after parents would more often come into the store asking for the Fisher Price “Little People.” In the early years the characters couldn’t be removed from their vehicle, the Fire Truck and in subsequent sets, starting with the Station Wagon and School Bus the full-bodied characters were introduced. The flagship Play Family Barn arrived in 1968, famous for the inclusion of a mechanical “mooo” sound that emanated when the barn door was opened, the set remains on shelves today. The characters have had a contemporary makeover, but the role-play potential still engages kids. The characters are based on friends and family of designers. Patrick Murphy, Principal designer at Fisher-Price tells us: “There’s a kid called Eddie in the Little People line-up who is holding a frog, wearing a rugby top and has a slingshot, that’s pretty much a snapshot of my son when he was four years old.”
Since 1957, the Corn Popper has been just about the most popular way of steadying kids as they start their way into the world of walking. This push (or pull-along) toy is still going strong. A slight update in its paintwork is the only discernible difference the Fisher-Price team has made in the past five decades, some of us parents wish they’d introduced a volume control for the balls as they bounce around inside the dome. The Corn Popper has, like many other Fisher-Price favourites, really stood the test of time. It may utilise only basic design technology, but it has helped millions of people take their first tentative steps in life.
Back in the 1960s when the cash register came along it was made mainly from wood, it was discontinued three years after as a new updated all-plastic version arrived complete with updated imagery and coins now valued at 5, 10 and 25 (previously they’d been 1,2 and 3 denominations). Since this update, the Cash Register remains unaltered, same imagery on the machine, coin values unphased by inflation and the same satisfying “ting” that is free with every role-played purchase.
The Fisher Price logo
The unmistakeable logo you see today has certainly seen the biggest of changes to reflect and remain relevant across the decades. From its early text-only based logos lasting into the mid-1950s when blue and white were added. This begun a phase of a new playful face of the company represented with a face which largely lasted in this style uninterrupted for two-decades. A return to text only lasted for ten-years and then, in 1992, as the company became independent once more the colours returned. The addition of tagline “Play. Laugh. Grow.” lasted until 2017 and the distinctive red logo we have today. According to Mike Sullivan, Director of Global Brand Marketing at Fisher Price: “The latest incarnation featuring three “scallops” (the curves on the base) is a tribute to one of the original founders Helen Schelle who didn’t get into the brand name like Herman Fisher and Irving Price and she was instrumental in the company’s success”.