The Road to Rochester: Fisher-Price Little People

Throughout October, Kidscreen will take a peek at each of this year's 12 nominees for the Toy Hall of Fame. Little People, the "Susan Lucci of the Toy Hall of Fame" is among this year's nominees.
October 16, 2014

Throughout October, Kidscreen will take a peek at each of this year’s 12 nominees for the Toy Hall of Fame, located within the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York. Among its inductees are the kite, Etch A Sketch and Tonka Trucks. Today, we look one more toy that could join the list: Fisher-Price Little People.

The Fisher-Price Little People have left a big footprint over the last 55 years. When they first showed up riding the “Safety School Bus” in 1959, their oversized round heads and armless bodies weren’t the only points of appeal for kids, there were also the now-iconic play sets that came with the figures. Little People had homes with furniture and mini-TV sets. There were amusement parks and zoos, airports and farms (with a barn that made a mooing sound when the door opened).

“They basically set up a whole play scenario for toddlers,” says Christopher Bensch, chief curator of the Strong Museum. “It’s that kind of acquiring a universe, and the figures that occupy it, which remains a staple mechanism in the toy world today.”

Over the decades, Little People changed from wooden figures to plastic ones, grew arms and became slightly larger - the affectionately nicknamed “Chunkies.”

In 1993, toy giant Mattel bought Fisher-Price, and while Little People have changed a fair bit since the 1950s, the line still exists today for preschoolers. In fact, the Fisher-Price Little People City Skyway play set is on Target’s holiday toy list this year and Mattel has just greenlit a new CGI series based on the toy property.

This isn’t Little People’s first dance with the Toy Hall of Fame. It’s made the finalist list five times so far, but it has yet to join the club. (Rubik’s Cube is in the same boat.) “I think of the two of them as the Susan Lucci of the toy world right now,” Bensch says, referencing the soap opera legend who was nominated 19 times before winning her first Emmy for daytime television. In the same vein, it’s a virtual certainty the Little People will be in the Toy Hall of Fame. Could this be the year?

The three main criteria for induction into the hall of fame are (1) longevity, (2) recognition or icon status, and (3) encouragement of learning, creativity and discovery. This year’s other 11 nominees are: American Girl dolls, bubbles, Hess toy trucks, Little Green Army Men, My Little Pony, Operation, paper airplane, pots and pans, Rubik’s Cube, Slip ‘N Slide and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The two inductees for 2014 will be announced on November 6.

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