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”)

Dollreference.com

Dollreference.com

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    

Nice1950's Example Vintage Madame Alexander Cissy Tagged Dress A Pretty Face!~vintage 1950's Madame Alexander Cissy Face 17" Doll~hard Plastic W/vinyl Arms~Buddy Lee Doll Ac Allis Chamlers Minneapolis Moline 1950 Hard Plastic Clothes $1Vintage Black Hard Plastic Walking Doll Probably PedigreeLot Of 4 Vintage Tlc Compoisition Hard Plastic Dolls W/ 2 Madame Alexander Mary Hoyer 14" Hard Plastic Doll And Clothes BeautifulVintage Hard Plastic Dolls Set Of 8Ltd Doll Stamp & 1950's Ideal 14" Hard Plastic Toni Doll In Original Dress P-90Vintage Miss Rosebud Hard Plastic Doll & Knitted Clothes 7 1/2 Inch BlondeVintage Miss Rosebud Hard Plastic Doll & Knitted Clothes 7 1/2 Inch BbrunetteBeautiful 1950 Hard Plastic Ballerina Doll Ao 16.5" GorgeousBig 27" Hard Plastic Vinyl Fayzah Spanos Character Baby Girl Toddler Doll L.e.Vogue 1952 Strung 8" Ginny Doll Hard Plastic Mary Lamb Frolicking Fables HtfDoll- Hard Plastic- Sleep Eyes- Blond Hair-formal Dress~vintage 1950's Hard Plastic 17" Doll W/stand~un-markedMohair Vintage Doll Wig Lot 6 Pcs! Parts, Repair & Restore Compo & Hard Plastics21" Black Pedigree Hard Plastic "mandy Lou" Walkie Talkie DollLovely All Original Vintage 8" Betsy Mccall American Character Hard PlasticVtg 18" Hard Plastic Doll-open/close Eyes,cissy Face. Possible Madame Alexander10 Antique Composition & Hard Plastic Doll Heads - Doll HospitalVintage Arranbee R&b Hard Plastic Doll (50's?) Pretty!Vintage Nancy Ann Style Doll W/show Face~18"~needs To Be Restrung ~Ltd Doll Stamp & 1950's Ideal 32" Hard Plastic & Vinyl Penny Playpal Doll TlcBetsy Mccall Doll 8" Tosca W/box Hard Plastic American Character Rare No ReserveSweet! Vtg Doll Romper & Bonnet/clothes/composition/compo/hard Plastic/baby Doll1950's Terri Lee Doll, Hard Plastic, Beautiful Brunette Wig, Unstrung21" Pedigree Type Hard Plastic Bnd Walkie Talkie DollVintage Pair - Hard Plastic Yellow Doll Toy Refrigerator Dishes - Pyrex StyleTiny Tears 14" Vintage Doll Hard Plastic Head Vinyl Body Clothes Antique Old NewVintage Lot Of 9 Small Dolls, Hard Plastic, Wood, Ethnic, Cloth11 Antique Composition & Hard Plastic Doll Heads - Doll HospitalGinny Doll Clothes Lot 22 Pieces Some VintageVtg~1940's~14" Hard Plastic Doll~original Haird~socks~shoes~toni Type~unmarkedStrung Vogue Ginny Doll 1949 Hard Plastic Ptd. Eye "christy" Excellent & SweetVintage Madame Alexander Wendy-kins 1953 1954 Heavy Plastic StrungVintage 14" Ideal P 90 Toni Doll Hard Plastic Strung Platinum BlondeDoll- Hard Plastic- Sleep Eyes- Dark Hair- Pink DressVintage American Character Sweet Sue Bride Doll~24" Hard Plastic 1950's1950;s Madame Alexander Doll Hard Plastic No Reserve1950's Scottish Vogue Ginny Doll Hard Plastic All Original Bent Knee WalkerVintage R & B Walker Doll With Case, Clothes, Arranbee? 50's17 Inch Sweet Sue Hard Plastic Walker Doll27" Rita Walker Doll By Paris Doll Co. - EcToni Ideal P93 Hard Plastic Doll & Unidentified 21" Doll Body Marked P93 Also HpMadame Alexander Vintage 15" Elise Ballerina Hard Plastic & Vinyl Doll Needs Tlc1950s Wanda The Walking Wonder Doll Hard Plastic Wind-up Key Walks Works!Antique Horsman Doll 15" Blinking Eyes Real Lashes Red Lips Hard Plastic Vintage1950s Betsy Mccall 8” Blonde & Brunette Doll PairVtg 50's Hard Plastic Walker Doll 14" Arranbee Nancy Lee Cinderella Honey Dress?Doll- Sleep Eyes- 12"- Dark Hair- Green Dress/apronBrunette Sandra Sue Ballerina Richwood Toys DollVintage 19" Ideal P-92 Toni Doll Blonde Hair Blue Eyes C1949-53Nice Bratz Brats Dolls 11" Mga Horse Lot Plus One Vintage Hard Plastic HorseVintage 1950’s Hard Plastic Doll1950's Dolls / Hard Plastic DollVintage 1940’s Hard Plastic Doll1960s Marx Play Set Or Doll House Hard Plastic Stone Rows X 4Vintage 18 In Uneeda 28 Hard Plastic Doll10" Plastic Ballerina Doll With Music Box Carrying Case & Extra Clothes1950s Betsy Mccall 8” Brunette Doll In Pink Dress