By Sherry Minton
During the years of World War II, the development of new manmade products in the scientific community was centered around items allocated for military use. After the War, the emphasis changed. Manmade products that had been put on hold because of the War, or that had been used by the military were now made available for general use. Petroleum-based fibers such as nylon and later dacron and orlon were introduced to the clothing industry, and their ease of care and cleaning made life much easier for women who had worked so hard and sacrificed so much during the War years. Other petroleum-based products such as hard plastic were now more available, and vinyl was soon to follow.
These new manmade products did not go unnoticed by doll manufacturers. The development of new and innovative dolls had not been a priority for several years, but things were about to change. The new manmade products were exactly what the doll world had been waiting for. During the 1940s, hard plastic was being used in limited supply. Shortly after the War, a variation of plastic was developed called vinyl. Hard plastic, vinyl or a combination of the two became the material of choice for doll manufacturers in the late ’40s and ’50s.
The major American doll companies now had what they needed to manufacturer a quality product, but how could they sell this product to a generation that had learned to “do without”?
The manufacturers looked at their major consumers: the women of America. These women were no longer restrained from buying as they had been. Many now had families with young children, nice homes, husbands with good jobs and good salaries, cars and, for the first time in many years, they were being exposed to glamour and fashion. Magazines and newspapers were filled with advertisements for beauty products and stylish couture. No more painting seams on the legs to represent stockings. No more coats and jackets made from blankets. No more dresses made and remade from old fabric. No more fingernails worn down because of work on military machinery and no more hair hidden under bandanas. After five years of drabness, it was now time to shine – not only for ladies but also for dolls.
The doll manufacturers observed the popularity of the beauty products and the fashions flooding the pages of magazines and newspapers. The marketing people also realized that associating their dolls with a popular product would certainly increase sales. A popular product name would mean a popular product – at least that was the plan.
One of the earliest doll manufacturers to take advantage of this sales idea was the Ideal Toy Company. Ideal was known for their fine dolls and had been in business since the early 1900s, but the postwar period was a new market and they were eager to compete. Toni Home Permanents had become an overnight sensation for ladies and children. Now, home permanents could be done in the comfort of your home, and if the Mother could give a permanent, why not the child? The Toni Company allowed the Ideal Toy Company to produce a doll that had hair that could be combed, washed and curled with a perm-type solution (not harmful). The perm rods and perm box looked just like the adult version. It even came with perm papers. While the perms were not always satisfactory, the sales proved very successful for Ideal and the idea spread.
A variation of the Toni doll was the Harriet Hubbard Ayer doll. This doll by Ideal used the Toni body but had a vinyl head and vinyl arms. The Harriet Hubbard Ayer Cosmetic Company provided a cosmetic kit with each doll. “Child safe” makeup including eyebrow pencil, eyeliner, rouge, lipstick and fingernail polish came with the doll and could be applied to the vinyl face and to the very unusual long fingernails. The popularity of these dolls was more limited than the Toni because the makeup was difficult to remove completely, and often the results were not pretty.
Revlon Cosmetics lent its name to another Ideal doll, the Revlon doll. Unlike the Toni which represented a child, the Revlon doll had a lady’s figure with a small waist, a bust and high heels. She could wear the high fashions seen is magazines plus she could wear high heels and hose. Her fashions were influenced by designers such as Dior but the names for the fashions were influenced by the names from the Revlon Cosmetic line. Names such as “Cherries a la Mode” given to one of the most popular Revlon doll outfits came directly for the introduction of the Revlon lipstick and nail polish color.
Like Ideal, the Arranbee Doll Company needed a glamorous name association and formed an alliance with Coty Cosmetics. While Coty did not influence the doll directly, the name association paid off and the little fashion ladies were quite popular in the late ’50s.
One of our largest doll manufacturers, the Madame Alexander Doll Company, also saw the advantages of name recognition. Madame Alexander was a masterful business woman and drew up an agreement with the Yardley Cosmetic Company. A selection of the popular Cissy lady dolls were to be used in the Yardley advertisements, which were seen in many of the popular lady’s magazines. This proved to be a great sales boost to both Yardley Cosmetics and the Madame Alexander Cissy. The child doll by Alexander was not to be left out. A “Little Lady” 8-inch Wendy Kin was produced that came with “Little Lady” cosmetics including toilet water, bubble bath and perfume.
Partnering the name of your doll firm with a name associated with beauty was a brilliant move. This and utilizing the manmade advances in manufacturing technology established the U.S. doll industry as the best in the world. The influence of the fashion industry on the doll world is no less important, but that is another story for another time.
|About our columnist: Sherry Minton has served as president of three clubs belonging to the United Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc. She is a senior member of the American Society of Appraisers with a Designated Specialty in Dolls and Toys. Minton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and she also operates a Minton’s Doll and Curiosity Shop on Ruby Lane|