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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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10 Facts About Clifford the Big Red Dog
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Whether you know him from his books, TV series, movies, or video games, Clifford is undoubtedly the world's best known Big Red Dog. (And to think that Norman Bridwell, Clifford's creator, was told he would never succeed.) Here are 10 things you might not know about one of the most popular children's book characters of all time, who was born 55 years ago.

1. NORMAN BRIDWELL WAS TOLD HE WAS NEVER GOING TO MAKE IT.

Norman Bridwell was told over and over again that he was never going to make it as an illustrator; his pictures of dogs were too ordinary and boring. One critic finally offered the helpful suggestion that Bridwell create a little story to go with his drawings of a little girl riding a pony-like dog, and that was all it took. Scholastic Books agreed to publish Clifford the Big Red Dog less than a month later.

2. CLIFFORD IS NAMED AFTER AN IMAGINARY FRIEND.

Clifford was named after an imaginary friend Bridwell's wife had when she was a child. At first Bridwell suggested "Tiny" as the big, red dog's name, but his wife told him that was too boring.

3. THE DOG IS RED FOR A VERY PRACTICAL REASON.

When asked how he decided on Clifford's signature color, Bridwell admitted that "it was red because I happened to have red paint on the drawing table that night."

4. BRIDWELL'S DAUGHTER INSPIRED A CHARACTER.

Emily Elizabeth Howard, the little girl who takes a liking to the runt of the litter in the first book, is named after Bridwell's own daughter, Emily Elizabeth Bridwell.

5. CLIFFORD IS A BIT OF A MUTT.

Ever wonder exactly what type of dog Clifford is? Well, he's said to have the characteristics of a giant Vizsla now, but the very first prototype—back when he was just the size of a pony instead of a house—was of a rather large bloodhound. Bridwell has said he took his inspiration from the behavior of all types of dogs.

6. BRIDWELL WAS ADAMANT THAT CLIFFORD BEHAVE LIKE A NORMAL DOG.

Don't ever expect to see titles like Clifford Goes to Outer Space or Clifford and the Dinosaurs. Bridwell, who passed away in 2014, firmly believed that although Clifford is a bit oversized, he still mostly does things normal dogs do.

7. CLIFFORD EXISTS IN 13 LANGUAGES.

More than 75 Clifford books have been published since the original first hit bookstores in 1963 and there are more than 129 million copies in print in 13 different languages.

8. SOME FAMOUS NAMES HAVE LENT THEIR VOICES TO THE CLIFFORD CARTOON.

If you've ever watched the Clifford cartoon on PBS, you've likely recognized some of the voices. John Ritter was the voice of Clifford; Kel Mitchell of Kenan and Kel voiced Clifford's buddy T-Bone; Cree Summers lent her vocals to another pal named Cleo (you've also heard her as Penny in Inspector Gadget and Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures); and Emily Elizabeth is played by voice actress Grey DeLisle who is also the McNulty Brothers in Rugrats and Queen Amidala in the Star Wars interactive series.

9. THERE'S A PREQUEL BOOK SERIES.

In 1985, Bridwell started writing Clifford the Small Red Puppy, where you can catch a glimpse of Clifford before he was able to catch cars in his mouth. Clifford's Puppy Days shows us what life with Clifford and Emily Elizabeth was like back when he was still the runt, before the family had to move to Birdwell Island to accommodate Clifford's gigantism. It was also made into a PBS series in 2003 called Clifford's Puppy Days.

10. PEOPLE LOVE CLIFFORD BECAUSE HE'S ALWAYS FORGIVEN.

Following Bridwell's death in 2014, Scholastic chairman, CEO, and president Dick Robinson issued a statement describing why Bridwell and his famous pup were so beloved:

“Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most lovable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children—kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude—through the Clifford stories which have been loved for more than 50 years.

The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always forgiven by Emily Elizabeth, who loves him unconditionally."

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Country Time Is Paying Off Fines on Kids' Lemonade Stands
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A summer staple has come under threat. “The Man” is cracking down on makeshift lemonade stands across the country and busting kids without business permits. Thankfully, one beverage maker is here to help.

As CNN reports, Country Time—known for its powdered lemonade mix—has started a legal fund to help pay off the fines and permit fees incurred by little lemonade hucksters. The company has vowed to cover fees of up to $300 for each business permit bought this year, as well as fines on lemonade stands that were shut down in 2017 and 2018.

The initiative, dubbed Legal-Ade, was reportedly inspired by an incident that occurred in Denver just last week in which two brothers who were selling lemonade for charity were forced to close down shop because they didn’t have a permit. In recent years, similar cases have been reported in Texas, Maryland, Iowa, Georgia, and more. Some fines have climbed as high as $500.

“When we saw these stories about lemonade stands being shut down for legal reasons, we thought it had to be an urban myth,” Adam Butler, an executive at Kraft Heinz, which owns Country Time, told CNN. “A very real response seemed the best way to shine a light on the issue."

The company posted a playful advertisement on YouTube showing a group of hard-nosed lawyers crossing their arms and cracking their knuckles behind a child’s lemonade stand. “Entrepreneurship? Good work habits? Good old-fashioned fun? Shut down because of old, arcane, but very real laws,” declares a voice in the video. “Tastes like justice,” one man in a suit says after downing his lemonade and crushing the plastic cup in one fist.

The company says it’s prepared to cover up to $60,000 in fees. To apply for some lemonade relief, head to Country Time’s website and upload a scanned copy of your child’s fine or permit receipt.

[h/t CNN]

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