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!Buddy Lee Doll Ac Allis Chamlers Minneapolis Moline 1950 Hard Plastic Clothes $1Vintage Lg Lot Of Doll Parts Fulper 2b Head Bisque ~ Composition ~ Hard Plastic~vintage 1950's Madame Alexander Cissy Face 17" Doll~hard Plastic W/vinyl Arms~1950s Madame Alexander Doll Maggie Face17" Hard Plastic 27" Black Doll, Hard Plastic Or Celluloid, Vintage30's~60's Antique~ Vtg~ Stunning Mary Hoyer Doll Toy~hard Plastic~all Origional Mary Hoyer 14" Hard Plastic Doll And Clothes BeautifulPullip Merl Mechanical Eye Moving Doll, Cheosang ChinaBig 27" Hard Plastic Vinyl Fayzah Spanos Character Baby Girl Toddler Doll L.e.Beautiful 1950 Hard Plastic Ballerina Doll Ao 16.5" GorgeousIdeal 28" Hard Plastic Saucy Walker/playpal Doll Tlc, Parts, RepairGorgeous Vintage Hard Plastic Jerri Lee Doll In Orig Tagged Outfit Circa 1952 21" Black Pedigree Hard Plastic "mandy Lou" Walkie Talkie DollSnf 27" Black Doll, Hard Plastic Or Celluloid, Vintage FranceAmerican Character Vintage 15" Sweet Sue Walker DollVintage American Character 8" Betsy Mccall Beautiful Doll! High Color!1950;s Madame Alexander Doll Hard Plastic No Reserve1950s Unmarked Hard Plastic 15" Dark Blonde Doll Vgc #10 No Clothes29" Tall Ideal Terry Twist Hard Plastic Jointed Doll Sp-30-s Red Hair For PartsLtd Toy Stamp & 1950's Hard Plastic Doll House Furniture Lot & Renwal DollsGinny By Vogue Dolls Inc. 7 1/2" Walker, Hard Plastic~vintage 1950's Hard Plastic 17" Doll W/stand~un-markedOld Vintage Modern Hard Plastic Vinyl Ideal Artist Misc Sleepy Eye Baby Doll LotEffanbee Doll Hard Plastic --needs TlcToni Ideal P93 Hard Plastic Doll & Unidentified 21" Doll Body Marked P93 Also HpVintage Nancy Ann Style Doll W/show Face~18"~needs To Be Restrung ~Madame Alexander Doll And 24 " Unmarked Hard Plastic 1950's Walker . Doll- Hard Plastic- Sleep Eyes- Blond Hair-formal Dress1950's Hp Unmarked Block Doll Corp "miss Addie" 10 1/2" Bent Knee Walker DollEstate #16: Collection Of 8 Tiny Dolls - Hard Plastic, Bisque (box #76)50's Fashion Doll 10-1/2" Vogue Jill Hard Plastic Knees BendAntique Horsman Doll 15" Blinking Eyes Real Lashes Red Lips Hard Plastic Vintage1950's Hard Plastic 8" Cosmopolitan Ginger - Toddler Walker - Original OutfitVintage 1950's Hard Plastic 210 Raving Beauty Gorgeous! High Color Near Mint!Vintage Catholic Nun Doll Unmarked Hard Plastic W/cross & Rosary BeadsEstate Lot #7 - 9 Hard Plastic Dolls Blinking Eyes **free Shipping** (box #43)Vintage 8" Girl Doll Hard Plastic Walker Sleepy EyesVintage Vogue Ginny Doll Plslw 1950s Hard Plastic New Wig Tagged Dress TlcVintage Ideal Hard Plastic Jointed Baby 8" Girl Doll Original Christening Gown Vintage-1950s- 8" Miss-rosebud Type-doll-made-in-england Vogue Ginny TypeNice Bratz Brats Dolls 11" Mga Horse Lot Plus One Vintage Hard Plastic HorseAmerican Character Vintage 15" Sweet Sue Walker DollIdeal Hard Plastic Doll --needs Tlc6 Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls 1 Baby Boo Boo Lot Bisque & Hard Plastic Dealer Lot!Beautiful Vintage Cameo 74 10" Hard Plastic Kewpie Doll 733/1 Jlk 31Vintage Cosmopolitan Ginger Doll 1950s Hard Plastic Braids Halloween Dress & BagVintage Hard Plastic Teen Dolls, 1950's, Tlc, 17", Sleep Eyes, Full Lashes7 1/2" Straight Leg Ginny Doll By Vogue C1950 Vintage Small Baby Dolls 8" Hard Plastic 5.5" Composition Dressed17 Inch Sweet Sue Hard Plastic Walker DollLovely 14" Hard Plastic Sweet Sue Walking Doll By Amer. Char. - 1950sVintage 50's, Cute, All Original Hard Plastic Krueger Doll - Ginny Friend - Euc(3) 6 1/4" Kewpie Doll By Irwin Made In The Usa Hard Plastic Moveable Arms 23 Inch Hard Plastic Head, Cloth Body Doll Ufdc 084-20147 Piece Lot Doll Dresses/clothes/vtg. Composition/compo/hard Plastic/baby DollBig Vintage 1960s Blonde Plastic Character Girl Doll 20" Tall Ae578 16Vintage Doll Alexander Girl Doll Needs Restore 17 Inch4 Pc Baby/doll Clothes/romper/panty/t-shirt/composition/hard Plastic/baby DollSmall Hong Kong Hard Plastic Dress Me 4 1/2" Dress Me Dolls, Movable Arms, Legs