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11 Magnificent Facts about FAO Schwarz

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Since FAO Schwarz, the monstrous New York City toy store, announced that it will be closing its Fifth Avenue location, toy fans have been mourning the loss of a childhood staple. But there's no use crying over the end of an era, especially when you can learn about its history instead.

1. Frederick August Otto Schwarz Originally Sold Stationery

FAO Schwarz was founded by Frederick August Otto Schwarz, the youngest of three brothers who immigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1856. Before opening a toy shop, Frederick worked for a stationery importer. According to Renee Montaigne of NPR, “stationery companies in Germany would include toys in their shipments. Schwarz placed those toys in his store window and they soon outsold the stationery, sparking an idea.”

2. The Store was first a family affair

The Schwarz brothers opened their first retail toy store in 1862 in Baltimore, Maryland. After seeing its success, Frederick moved to New York City in 1870 and opened Schwarz Brothers Importers at 765 Broadway in Greenwich Village. In 1880, the name was officially changed to FAO Schwarz.

3. FAO Schwarz started the Santa trend

In 1875, FAO Schwarz, then called the Toy Bazaar, brought a live Santa into the store around Christmas time, inspiring stores like Macy’s to do the same.

4. The store relocated...a lot

The toy store has occupied seven different locations around Manhattan. The flagship store finally settled down at 767 Fifth Avenue in 1986. For 55 years before the move, the store was a two-minute walk away at 745 Fifth Avenue.

5. Some Toys Cost Over $1000

Currently, one of the most expensive items available is the full size Buffalo from Hansa’s Woodland & Prairie Collection, which goes for $2,649.99 (with an additional shipping cost of $299.99). According to the store’s website, the buffalo can be ridden by anyone under 150 pounds and is best for children aged 3-10.

6. It Was Called Out for Being Expensive

On December 11, 1980, The Washington Post published “The Consumer Affairs Committee—Americans for Democratic Action 9TH ANNUAL PRICING SURVEY” which compared the prices of 88 toys sold at 24 D.C.-area stores. The survey found that Milton, an electronic talking game from Milton Bradley, cost $58.97 at K Mart compared to $110 at FAO Schwarz.

7. The store once had a giant cuckoo clock but the neighbors complained about the noise

For decades, a 6'7" cuckoo clock sat perched over the store’s windows. In 1989, it was auctioned off at Sotheby’s. In a 1989 article in The New York Times, FAO Schwarz toy buyer Ian McDermott said that the clock “cuckooed for a year before the Fifth Avenue Association persuaded George Hecht, then the owner of Schwarz and of Parents Magazine, to silence the bird." The article explained that “Complaints had been made by the head of Bergdorf Goodman across the street about the clock chiming and cuckooing on the hour."

8. In Big, Tom Hanks didn't dance on the real piano

The giant piano featured in Big (1988) wasn’t the original from the store. In an interview with The New York Post, director Penny Marshall explained that she had to have a special keyboard made because the one at FAO Schwarz didn’t play the notes needed for the songs “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks.” So, she employed the same piano maker with the task of making a new one with a greater range.

9. The store has a theme song from a hit songwriter

The FAO Schwarz theme song “Welcome to Our World of Toys” was written by Bobby Gosh, the same songwriter who penned the 1970s soft rock classic “A Little Bit More.”

"Welcome to Our World of Toys" played from the jolly “Humpty Dumpty” clock in the store’s entrance from 1986 to 2004.

10. The Nintendo Entertainment System Debuted at FAO Schwarz

In October 1985, when the video game market was in its post-Atari crash, FAO Schwarz became the first U.S. retailer to sell the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The console was originally released in Japan in 1983 as the Famicom.

11. The brand was bought out by the competition

FAO Schwarz entered bankruptcy in 2003 and again in 2004—they even had to briefly close the store from late January to Thanksgiving Day of that year. Then, in 2009, it was purchased by Toy’s 'R' Us. In 2004, The New York Times article “F.A.O Schwarz Closes, Disappointing Visitors” cited Toy’s 'R' Us as one of the “discount toy retailers” responsible for FAO Schwarz's demise.

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Want to Recycle Your Christmas Tree? Feed It to an Elephant
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

When the holiday season finally comes to a close, people get creative with the surplus of dead Christmas trees. One San Francisco-based artist transformed brittle shrubs into hanging installation pieces. Others use pine needles for mulch, or repurpose trees into bird sanctuaries. For the average person, sticking it into a wood chipper or "treecycling" it as part of a community program are all eco-friendly ways to say goodbye to this year's Douglas fir. None of these solutions, however, are as cute as the waste-cutting strategy employed by some zoos around the world: giving them to elephants.

Each year, zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin—a facility that bills itself as “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”—feed the elephants unsold pine trees. The plants are reportedly pesticide-free, and they serve as a good (albeit prickly) supplement to the pachyderms' usual winter diets.

A bit closer to home, the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee rely on local residents to take part in their annual Christmas Tree Drive. In addition to being nutrient-rich, the tree's needles are said to help aid in an elephant's digestion. But beyond all that, it's pretty adorable to watch.

5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree

What’s the environmentally safest way to dispose of your Christmas tree? It’s hard to say. Grown, managed, transported, and recycled efficiently, a real Christmas tree’s environmental impact should be near neutral. Unfortunately, not all Christmas tree plantations are equal in their environmental impact.

The most eco-friendly way is to leave the tree in the ground, where it belongs, so you never have to dispose of it. But then you don't have a Christmas tree in your house to bring festive cheer. One thing you can do is be environmentally smart when it comes to the tree's disposal. After this festive season, why not try one of these eco-friendly methods.


If you’re lucky enough to have access to a big wood-chipper, you may be able to chip the entire tree. Wood-chip is great as a decorative landscaping material. But if you really want to do great things for the environment (and if you have access to a lot of Christmas trees), you could make a bioreactor to denitrify water. Nitrates are put on farms across the world to help increase crop output, but a considerable amount is washed away into lakes and rivers where it’s disastrous for fish and potentially toxic for people. A wood chip bioreactor encourages the growth of bacteria that break down the nitrates in the drainage water, reducing the amount that gets into the water supply. It's not a simple project, however. To make one, you have to dig a big trench, get the water to flow through said trench, and fill it with wood chips. More info can be found here [PDF].



If your tree hasn’t yet let go of its needles—and you haven’t yet let go of Christmas, get crafty with it. Cut off small branches and bind them around a circle of wire to make an attractive wreath. This looks even better if some of the cones are still attached. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could set up an essential oil extractor to get a supercharged Christmas scent. If you are already distilling alcohol, you have everything you need (here's how to do it). With a little less effort and equipment, you can make a weaker liquid called hydrosol, which is a fragrant condensate water containing water-soluble parts of the needles.


Many legumes, such as garden peas, are thigmotropic, meaning that they respond to objects they touch, growing in coils along or up them. Needle-free Christmas tree branches have lots of twigs, texture, and knobby protrusions for peas and beans to get a grip on. This allows them to grow upwards strongly toward light. Simply stick a small tree branch in the soil next to each new shoot for a free, effective legume-climbing frame. Another advantage of this technique is that it makes grazing animals less likely to munch those tender green shoots, as they tend to avoid getting Christmas tree twigs spiked up their noses.


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Come January, it’s cold, the festivities are over, work looms, and you’ve got too much on your mind to be thinking about dead Christmas tree horticulture or crafts. Fortunately, a simple solution is at hand: Most counties and municipalities now provide Christmas tree recycling points where you can take your tree for chipping. Some “TreeCycle” points will even exchange your tree for a bag of wood-chip or chip mulch. OK, this probably means that you’ll have to jam that Christmas tree into your car once more, but as long as you don’t have to drive too many miles out of your way, Christmas tree recycling is a quick and easy environmentally-friendly option.


After you’ve had your Christmas cheer, why shouldn’t fish have some fun? Several communities have programs in place where they’ll take your old Christmas tree, drill a hole in the base, tie a brick to it, and throw it in a lake. When humans create artificial lakes, they tend to be relatively featureless on the bottom for easy dredging. That’s great for us, but it means baby fish have nowhere to escape predators. Christmas trees provide a nice, temporary place for the fish to hide out and explore.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see your Christmas tree mauled by a pride of lions, that’s OK too! Some zoos around the world take Christmas tree donations (but please remove all the tinsel first) and allow the animals to play with them.


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