For four decades, the little known toy company started by Herman Fisher, Irving Price, and Helen Schelle made whimsical wooden toys in relative obscurity. Shortly after their beginnings in 1930, Fisher-Price (as they called themselves) released the Woodsey Cart, a small animal-drawn wagon with a small wooden driver. The driver had a round head and cylindrical body and was fastened to his seat.
Although the Woodsey Cart was later discontinued, the model for the driver would reappear again years later during the 1950s. The Looky Fire Truck and the Racing Rowboat both featured drivers in the style of the one who drove the Woodsey Cart back in the day and with the smell of a nearby success in their noses, Fisher-Price released the Safety School Bus in 1959. This hit differed from its predecessors in that each of the little cylindrical figurines was removable. Thus it was that when the Safety School Bus pulled in to stores, it brought the phenomena of Little People with it.
Fisher-Price went on to produce a whole world for the Little People to live in. Various one and two-seater cars appeared, bulbous little airplanes, tow trucks, and so forth. Little People towns began to spring up on bedroom floors replete with shops, a school (with desks and blackboards), a parking garage (with ramps and an elevator), a hospital, and the coup de gras… the Little People Discovery Airport. And after a long day, Little People came home to houses full of specially designed chairs, beds, and television sets.
The Little People themselves have undergone a few evolutionary changes as well over the years for various reasons. Between 1960 and 1962, Little People included in the Nifty Station Wagon playset were wider and had a tall base. A few years later, the Goldilocks and the Three Bears playset came with Little People blessed with a geometrically-enhanced base between 1967 and 1970. It was around this time that Little People experienced an extreme but unremarkable biological change when Fisher-Price begane to make them exclusively out of plastic instead of wood. Pressure from parents and consumer safety groups also effected the shaped of Little People. Concerns became alarms when Little People graced the cover of a book titled Toys That Kill in 1986. Fisher-Price once again altered the shape of their Little People, beefing them up – or out – and earning them the fan name “Chunky People” or “Chunkies.”
Today, Little People are made of rubber, enjoy greater detailing, and enjoy an expanded role in plush toys, electronics, and even an animated series. But despite years of innovations that have remained true to the Fisher-Price creed, the secret that has made Fisher-Price a billion-dollar-a-year toy giant is those wonderfully-retro Little People.
If you have memories of playing with Fisher-Price Little People as a kid, or have a particular fondness for any of the numerous playsets released over the years, share them with us at Retroland, as we look back at these classic toys from our youth.