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15 Playful Facts About Fisher-Price

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If you’ve ever been in the vicinity of a small child, you’ve probably tripped over something made by Fisher-Price. Founded in 1930, the company has specialized in imagination-stirring diversions for tots. Check out 15 facts about things that would make any toddler drool.

1. IT WAS CO-FOUNDED BY A MAYOR.

Herman Fisher was a salesman who wanted to raise the bar for toy quality in the 1930s, but a bid to buy the toy firm he was vice president and general manager of, All Fair Toys in Rochester, failed. While touring the company offices in East Aurora, New York, town mayor Irving Price liked Fisher’s pitch to craft better, more imaginative playthings. He decided to back Fisher’s dream with $100,000 in raised capital.

2. THEY STORED TOYS IN A FUNERAL HOME.

Fisher-Price

While Fisher-Price was not an immediate cash cow—it lost most of that $100,000 investment early on—by the mid-1930s the company was on firmer footing. During the holiday seasons, the surplus of toys made for Christmas demand were stored in a local funeral home that rented out space to the toymaker.  

3. IT PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE BEEN FISHER-PRICE-SCHELLE.

Helen Schelle was a toy store manager and designer in Binghamton, New York who worked for Fisher’s old toy firm. When Fisher-Price was founded, Schelle was named secretary and treasurer, contributing product ideas and helping to conceive of their initial launch of 16 toys. Even more importantly, she had valuable contacts in the industry that helped the start-up get on its feet. On their website, Fisher-Price offers a conciliatory note about her absence in the company name: “Sorry, Helen.”

4. THE SNOOPY SNIFFER WAS AN EARLY HIT.

Fisher-Price had great success with a series of string-pulled wooden toys that would bob their heads or move when tugged, but none had more impact [PDF] than the Snoopy Sniffer, a charming beagle introduced in 1938 that kept his nose to the ground when trailing behind his owner. “Snoopy” was apparently a popular dog name of the era: It pre-dated Charles Schulz's famous Peanuts comic strip by 12 years.

5. THEY MADE MILITARY EQUIPMENT.

World War II brought a change in priorities for many manufacturers, and Fisher-Price was no exception. The company ceased production of nearly all their toys during wartime, instead using their resources to make ammunition crates, medical chests, and parts for combat planes [PDF].

6. THEY PIONEERED THE PLAY LAB.

Fisher-Price

In 1961, Fisher-Price decided to formalize what most toy companies should have already known: Focus group testing should consist of subjects with poop in their pants. Their Play Lab invites kids to interact with new product designs to assess their playability, ease of use, and creative spark. Roughly 1200 ideas are tested every year.

7. THEY ONCE RAN OUT OF WOOD.

Most Depression-era toys were made out of wood or tin. But after World War II, when veterans returned home eager to establish a quiet domestic life, they created the housing boom and wood became scarce. Fisher-Price began experimenting with plastic by making the wings of their Buzzy Bee pull toy out of the material. By the end of the 1950s, half of their toys were made with the easily-sculpted stuff, which would grow to dominate the toy industry.

8. THEIR LITTLE PEOPLE CAME OFF A BUS.

Jose Lulz Rules via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The tiny, stylized plastic population of Fisher-Price’s playsets were originally affixed to toys and not removable. But with the arrival of the Safety Bus in 1959, kids could take out the passengers and imagine all kinds of possible activities with them. (The driver, however, stayed put.) It inspired the company to create an entire line of sets with the mobile, chunky-headed figures, although diversity took a little while to arrive: The first black Little People figure wasn’t introduced until the 1970s.  

9. THE LITTLE PEOPLE FARM ONCE LOST ITS MOO.

For a brief period, the company’s trademark farm playset removed the familiar moo sound that triggered when kids opened the tiny barn doors. According to Fisher-Price, the change led to “udder outrage” by parents; the sound was quickly reinserted.  

10. THEY MADE A CHEAP VIDEO CAMERA TREASURED BY FILMMAKERS.

Fisher-Price’s PXL-2000 camcorder stretched the company’s typical demographic by targeting teenage consumers who wanted an inexpensive ($100) video camera during the camcorder craze of the late 1980s. Recording images on audio cassette tape, the picture captured on a PXL-2000 is a bit of a pixelated mess, and there were so many technical issues that the company quickly discontinued it. While kids weren’t happy, the sketchy image was the kind of avant-garde filter embraced by artists. Dubbed “Pixelvision,” it was used by filmmakers in the fine art world for moody tone pieces. On May 19, you can attend the 25th annual PXL THIS film festival at Los Angeles' Echo Park Film Center.

11. THEY ACQUIRED THE CORN POPPER FOR JUST $50.

Spend any amount of time in a toddler-occupied household and you’ve probably heard the familiar tock-tock-tock of the company’s Corn Popper, a two-wheeled contraption that bounces balls around in a sealed dome at irritating decibels. Fisher-Price acquired the rights from designer Arthur Holt for $50 in 1957.

12. AN EARLY TOY CAN FETCH $9500.

The next time you’re at a yard sale, keep an eye out for Push Cart Pete, one of the company’s earliest pull toys made out of Ponderosa pine. Debuting in 1936, it’s rare enough to command $9500 on the collectible market. If you can find a Donald and Donna Duck pair from 1937—Fisher-Price licensed Disney characters early on—you could score $5000.

13. A FEW OF THEIR TOYS WERE PRONE TO CATCHING FIRE.

According to the Associated Press, Fisher-Price got a serious scolding (and a $1.1 million fine) from the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2001 for failing to report safety issues in its line of Power Wheels ride-on toy bikes. Some of the toys were prone to catching fire owing to faulty electrical wiring. The CPSC asserted the fires caused more than $300,000 in personal property damage to consumers, with nine children receiving minor burns. Fisher-Price refuted their charges but settled to avoid any further legal issues.

14. JONATHAN ADLER IS GIVING THEM A FACELIFT.

Fisher-Price

Owing to sluggish sales, Fisher-Price recently brought on designer Jonathan Adler as its creative director. Adler—whose home furnishings have made him a décor brand name—intends to maintain safety and playability, while giving toys and safety equipment a more aesthetically pleasing look.

15. THEY WANT YOUR BABIES.

Child models have long been a fixture of Fisher-Price’s marketing, but the rise of social media and the need for snapshots for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has increased demand for photogenic tots. The company recently circulated a solicitation for infants under six months old for photo shoots, as long as you live in the Western New York area. Babies will be compensated for their efforts.

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Barbie Is Now Giving Coding Lessons
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Mattel wants to help 10 million kids learn to code by 2020, and the toy giant is enlisting one of its most career-focused assets: Barbie. According to Engadget, Mattel is working with the coding education company Tynker to make seven Barbie-themed computer programming lessons.

Barbie has been a pilot, an architect, the president, and a computer engineer, so there may be no better character to teach kids the joys of coding. The lessons, arriving in summer 2018, will be designed for youngsters in kindergarten and up, and will teach Barbie-lovers more than just how to make apps. They’ll use Barbie’s many careers—which also included veterinarian, robotics engineer, and astronaut—as a way to guide kids through programming concepts.

An illustration depicts Barbie and her friends surrounded by cats and dogs and reads 'Barbie: Pet Vet.'

A screenshot of a Barbie coding lesson features a vet's office full of pets.

There are plenty of new initiatives that aim to teach kids how to code, from a Fisher-Price caterpillar toy to online games featuring Rey from Star Wars. This is the third partnership between Mattel and Tynker, who have already produced programming lessons using Hot Wheels and Monster High.

Kindergarten may seem a little soon to set kids on a career path as a computer programmer, but coding has been called “the most important job skill of the future,” and you don’t need to work for Google or Facebook to make learning it worthwhile. Coding can give you a leg up in applying for jobs in healthcare, finance, and other careers outside of Silicon Valley. More importantly for kids, coding games are fun. Who wouldn’t want to play Robotics Engineer Barbie?

[h/t Engadget]

All images by Tynker

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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