Hard-plastic dolls were first introduced in the late '40s, when new plastics developed during World War II were adopted by civilian manufacturers. Well-established doll makers like Alexander Doll Company and Ideal Toy Company started producing many of their most popular doll lines in hard plastic instead of the more expensive, more labor-intensive, and less durable materials of dolls past—composition, bisque, or china. They were also quick to forego earlier plastics like rubber and celluloid, which wore out easily. In the case of celluloid, the dolls were also highly flammable.

New plastics let companies churn out dolls with very basic molds faster than ever before. Some of these new hard plastic dolls were well-designed but not very well finished, with visible seams from the mold. Low-grade plastics could also crack, presenting a safety hazard. That said, hard plastic material was favored for more high-end plastic dolls because it could be used to create detailed features, even after the more flexible plastics known as “vinyl” were introduced in the 1950s. Hard plastic and vinyl dolls often had eyes that could open and close, as well as joints on the hips, shoulders, and wrists.

In the '50s, the mohair wigs (made from Angora goat hair) of hard-plastic dolls were replaced with synthetic materials like saran, Dynel, and nylon. The strands would be sewn to a net by a machine, and then the net would be glued to the dolls’ head. Saran hair had a permanently set curly or straight style, but Dynel and nylon hair could be water set. These developments led to a wide variety of dolls with hair girls could style themselves.

Some of the early adopters included Ideal, who made the Baby Coos doll with a hard-plastic head and composition limbs, and Pedigree Doll Company in England, who made their Beauty Skin dolls with rubber bodies and hard-plastic heads. England’s Rosebud Doll company started out with composition dolls when it was founded in 1947, but quickly adapted to hard plastic. (Founder Eric Smith is known for creating a talking-doll device that got the interest of Mattel, which absorbed the company in 1967.)

After the war, British National Doll Company switched from making doll heads of china to hard-plastic dolls. Its baby dolls came with molded hair, open-shut eyes, and bent limbs that were jointed at the hips, shoulders, and wrists.

Buddy Lee, a doll made as a promotional item for Lee Jeans beginning in 1920, was first made out of hard plastic starting in 1949. Earlier versions of the company mascot, which were originally made for advertising displays, had been made of composition. The new 13-inch hard-plastic Buddy Lee was the second highest-selling doll in the U.S. before it was discontinued in 1962.

In the United States, the Alexander Doll Company set the standard for high-end well-made hard-plastic dolls under its Madame Alexander trademark. In 1947, it introduced its 18-inch Wendy Ann doll. With her soft brown wig of real human hair and her wistful expression, Wendy Ann was an immediate hit, and stores could barely keep her in stock...

The company’s glamorous line of 21-inch Cissy fashion dolls were meant for older girls, and were sold along with a wide selection of intricately detailed clothing and accessories such as ball gowns, pumps, gloves, earrings, and hats. These dolls came with a little hat box inscribed “Madame Alexander, NewYork” attached to their wrists with a golden thread. These dolls were so elegant that Yardley of London employed them in their toiletries advertisements.

Alexander also made baby dolls, like the hard-plastic Rosebud doll of the early 1950s, with a voice and moving eye, as well as hard-plastic character dolls such as the Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty dolls sold at Disneyland and Spiegel’s department stores. One of its most popular lines was the Alexander-kins baby doll series. These 8-inch dolls were produced for years, in a wide variety of styles and costumes.

The Vogue Doll Company, which was started by Jennie Graves in 1922, already had a reputation for making some of the finest doll clothing around, debuted its hard-plastic Ginny dolls after the war. The toddler doll, named for her daughter, Virginia Graves Carlson, was altered with addition of sleep eyes in 1951 and a walking model in 1954. The 1954 doll came with an adorable mini plush terrier by Stieff. Vogue, who liked to call itself “the fashion leader in doll society,” also made other named and storybook dolls.

Another company competing with Alexander and Vogue for the high-priced doll market was Fleischaker & Baum, more commonly known by their tradmark Effanbee. This company was renowned for its gorgeous hard-plastic Honey doll, which had nylon hair, open-shut eyes, and open-closed mouth. Honey even had the distinct honor of having clothes made for her by Parisian haute couture house Schiaparelli. Effanbee also made a line of Little Lady dolls, as well as a Prince Charming and Cinderella set as fine as Madame Alexander’s.

Capitalizing the doll hair-styling craze, Ideal Toy Company bragged that its hard-plastic Toni doll came with “magic Nylon hair” that could be washed and set with its accompanying Play-Wave Kit. This popular doll, which was heavily promoted in department-store catalogs, had a tag on its wrist that read, “Be Proud of Your Toni Doll.” The Toni mold was also used to make Ideal’s hard-plastic doll of Mary Hartline, the “Pretty Princess” of '50s television. Another well-loved Ideal doll was Betsy McCall, the advertising character for McCall’s patterns, who had a Bakelite hard-plastic body and a vinyl head stuffed with cotton batting.

Ideal sold the Toni mold to American Character Doll company, which made their Tonis out of vinyl. In hard plastic, the company used the Toni mold in the early '50s to made their Sweet Sue line of early toddler dolls with open-shut eyes. They also used the mold to make a hard-plastic Alice in Wonderland, who naturally came wearing a pinafore. Sweet Sue’s special feature was her versatile saran chignon hairpiece created by esteemed hairstylist Charles of the Ritz. Saran Yarn Company boasted that kids could give Sweet Sue “all the newest hairdos: Pompadour, topknot, whirltop, and halo.”

Even though Horsman was an innovator in developing vinyl dolls, they also made dozens of models of their Bright Star line, originally composition dolls, in hard plastic in the early '50s. Bright Star had glassine sleep eyes and a saran wig. Other important hard-plastic doll makers of the postwar era include Arranbee Doll Company, which created Nanette; Robert Doll Company; Royal Doll Company; Terri Lee Sales Corporation; and Nancy Ann Storybook and Style Show Dolls.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

$.99 Cents! Fab Vintage A/o 18" Arranbee (r & B) Hard Plastic Nancy Lee Doll!Old Vintage Hp Hard Plastic Original Fashion Doll Misc Lot Marked Doll Bodies Nr26" Big Old Vintage 1940s Hard Plastic Composition Character Baby Doll Vintage 1950's Terri Lee 16" Hard Plastic Strung Doll Marked Terri LeeAdorable 1950's 7.5" "muffie"storybook Doll-hard Plastic Walker W/period Outfit!Wry Face Sweet Sue By American Character - Early Face Hard Plastic Doll 14" 1949Rare Beautiful ~ Nancy Ann Style Show ~ Strawberry Festival ~ All Original Nr1960 1961 Mattel Chatty Cathy Original Vintage Doll In Excellent Condition8" Vintage 1950's Cosmopolitan Ginger Doll Hard Plastic Walker Tagged Lot Ginny Vtg 14" Hard Plastic Doll-open/close Eyes-sweet Face13 Inch Unclothed Buddy Lee DollVintage Original Madame Alexander 25" Inch Binnie Walker Hard Plastic Doll *nr*Old Vintage Misc Compo Composition Orig Hard Plastic Hp Girl Character Doll LotVintage Tagged Madame Alexander Satin Lace Trimmed Gown 14" Hard Plastic Doll NrVintage 1948 P-93 Ideal Hard Plastic Toni Doll, 21" Tall, Original Clothes !!Vintage Madame Alexander Hard Plastic Ballerina Doll~tagged Dress~(rough) 18"~1950s Hard Plastic "block" Doll Corp 12" Baby Doll-nods Head Yes/no Pat Pend VgcVintage Hard Plastic 18" Doll Unmarked Madame Alexander Margaret O'brien DollVintage Buddy Lee Coca Cola Early Hard Plastic Store Advertising DollVintage Alexander Kins Walking Doll. Hard Plastic. Madame Alexander. Usa.Vintage 1940's Ideal Baby Doll, Composition & Hard Plastic, Original Clothes !!Vintage 1961 Ideal Kissy Kissing Playpal Doll W Original Dress And Box 22" DollVintage 19" Raving Beauty DollLoveable 22" Pedigree Mandy Lou Vintage Walker Doll In Vintage DressVintage Madame Alexander Hard-to Find Mary Martin Hard Plastic 17" Doll 1948?Vintage Little Girl Hard Plastic Doll 50's AdorableOld Vintage Unknown Original Hp Hard Plastic Fashion Girl Doll Dolls Misc Lot 1950's Hard Plastic Ideal P91 Mary Hartline Doll High Color Strawberry Blonde16" Original Ideal P-91 Toni Blonde Haired Bride 1950ss Vintage Fashion DollLot 2 1950s Vintage 9" Fashion Dolls With Box Brown Brunette Unmarked DollVintage Retro 60s Hawaiian / Polynesian Celluloid Type / Hard Plastic DollBeautiful Unmarked Vinyl Doll Brown Hair 18" Jointed Ice Princess1950's Hard Palstic 16" Doll Marked 170Lovely Vintage 13 1/2" Fashion Doll Glamour Lady High Heels Original Earrings16" Original Usa Marked Bridesmaid 1950s Vintage Mary Hoyer Type Fashion DollVintage Hard Plastic Doll~madame Alexander Maggie??~14.5" ~nude~Vintage Estate Hard Plastic Kokeshi Doll Stackable Candy Snack Dish BowlRare 12" Pedigree Melon Mouth,"thumbs Up" Hard Plastic Walker Doll As BrownieVintage 1950's Hard Plastic 17" Bride Doll Original Bridal Gown, Displayed OnlyVintage Hard Plastic Roddy Doll With Portrait In Water ColorVintage 1961 Ideal St-12 Shirley Temple Doll Original Dress Excellent 12" DollVintage Hollywood Hard Plastic Baby Doll In Gorgeous Dress And BonnetVintage 1960s Mattel Ponytail Barbie Doll Childs Size Tea Party Set Hard PlasticVintage Ideal Pb 25 Baby Plassie Hard Plastic Doll Head OnlyVintage Rita Paris Doll 27" Walker1950's 20" Hard Plastic Saucy Walker Type Doll - Pin-hipped Walker -orig.clothes1950's Hard Palstic 16" Doll Marked 170Vintage Hard Plastic 20" Bride Doll/orig. Gown,veil2002 City Toy Basic Preemie Doll For Reborn Hard Plastic Body/vinyl Limbs & HeadVintage 17.5" Articulated Hard Plastic Doll 1952-54, American Character 20 Inch Sweet Sue Hard Plastic Walker Girl DollVintage Hard Plastic Doll In Box Nancy Ann Miniature Home Collect DecorVintage 21" Hard Plastic Saucy Walker Look Alike Crier Head Turning Walker DollIdeal Hard Plastic 17" Walker Doll Mama Sound 1950 SVintage R&b Arranbee Hard Plastic Brunette Doll 15" Tall Very Cute 22 Inch Tall Vintage Walking Doll With Working Crier.1960's 10" Walker Eegee Li'l Susan Littlest Angel Hard Plastic & Vinyl DollHard Plastic Impco Toddler Walker Doll Eyes Close Open Mouth 4 Teeth Saucy Type1950's Vinatge Doll (sassy Walker?)24 Vintage Barbie & Ken Doll Size Hangers Assorted Colors Hard Plastic