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    

Vintage Vogue Ginny Doll Bent Knee Walker 8" Hard Plastic High Color Pretty1957 Vintage Vogue Ginny Doll - Bkw With Clothing Lot - Tags Medford Vintage Chatty Cathy Doll 20" Hard Plastic Mattel 1960s Mrk CanadaVintage 14" Hard Plastic High Color (tan) Doll Unmarked But Probably ArranbeeVintage 50s Ginny Friend Ginger Disney Mouseketeer Hard Plastic Doll #2Vintage Mary Hoyer 14" Doll Red Hair Box 2 Hoyer Outfits 1959 Price List17" Antique Vintage 50's Hard Plastic Sweet Sue Sophisticate Bride Walker DollWonderful Large Old Doll - Possibly Pedigree - Walking - Talking ? - L@@k19" Madame Alexander Antique Hard Plastic/cloth Old Vintage Baby Doll Lovely Vintage 1950's Nude 14" Mary Hoyer Doll - Hard PlasticVintage 1950's Exquisite Nancy Ann Style Show Doll Hard Plastic 18' All OriginalVintage Hard Plastic Ideal Toni 19" P-93 Doll In Red Plaid Dress With Red Hair28 Inch 1950 Hard Plastic Paris Doll Rita Walker Doll Near Mint Original Outfit14" Vintage 1950s Hard Plastic Madame Alexander Doll Maggie FaceSuperb Example Of 1950's 13" Bnd Hard Plastic Doll1960s Chatty Cathy Doll In Yellow Dress In Beautiful ConditionVintage Hard Plastic American Character Sweet Sue 17" Walker Doll 21" 1950's Hard Plastic Black Pedigree Walking DollVintage 1950s Furga Italy Hard Plastic Ricciarda Doll Original Box Near Mint13" 1950's Hard Plastic Bent Limbed Black Rosebud Doll Vgc18" Hard Plastic Walker Doll Hoyer Gigi Type Gorgeous Brunette!Vintage Chatty Cathy Doll 29" Hard Plastic Vinyl Face Mattel 1960s W Dress1950's Hard Plastic Black Pedigree Doll Side Glancing Eyes 10"4 Hard Plastic Dolls - All OriginalGorgeous Unmarked Hard Plastic Doll...circa 1940's...1950's...Large 24” Vintage Antique American Character Sweet Sue Hard Plastic Walker Doll2003 Hard Plastic Vogue Ginny DollAntique White Shoes For Bisque Or Hard Plastic DollsVintage 14 Inch Tall Effanbee Hard Plastic Doll Vintage Richwood Doll Co. Sandra Sue Original Dress & Jumper. Vintage 1950s Twinkle Ballerina Virga Doll By Beehler Arts Rosy Cheeks Adorable!Vintage 18ins Palitoy "sheena" Doll Vinyl & Hard Plastic Has Wind In PlaitsAntique Vintage 1950’s A Marcie Nun Doll Original Clothes Box #816 White Sister1950's Hard Plastic & Vinyl Madame Alexander Multi - Jointed 17" Madeline Doll 2 Vintage Hard Plastic Dolls, Doll Trunk, Clothing Lot, Luann Simms And FriendWinnie Walking Talking Doll In Box Works With Instruction SheetVintage 1950's 8" Joanie Walker Doll By Pma W/ Box - Ginny Type - Looks NewVintage Nice Swiss Dot Dress 18" Doll Compo Hard Plastic Excellent Cnd No Odors1960s Chatty Cathy Doll In Blue Dress In Beautiful ConditionVintage 1951 Painted Hard Plastic American Character Bride Doll Sweet Sue? Mint4 Dolls: 2 Ideal Toni P-90, 1 Ideal Toni P-91 And 1 Hard Plastic16" Ideal P-90 Toni Cowgirl Hard Plastic Doll & Leather SaddleVintage Hard Plastic Ideal Toni 15" P-91 Doll In Sailor Dress With Auburn Hair 1950's Hard Plastic Wanda The Walker Doll Dolls~ 3 Dolls~parts/repair/redo~lookPretty 22" Hard Plastic Saucy Walker Doll By Ideal 1950s Parts / Repair~1988 Vogue Ginny~no Box~1960s Barbie Odd Hard Plastic Fashion Doll ??Set Of 4 Hard Plastic 7 1/2" Dolls, Sleep Eyes, WalkersGreat Vintage Ideal Betsy Wetsy Doll Box Only, No. 1006, Large Square BoxFully Marked Okader 7 Inches Hard Plastic Doll With TeethVintage Hard Plastic Madam Alexander Irish Lassy Doll Crocheted Bonnet ApronLarge Black Hard Plastic Jedda Doll 20" C1955Old Vintage Catherine Parr Doll By Peggy Nisbet Hard Plastic English Henry Viii Vintage Hard Plastic Hollywood Doll Western Series Cowgirl + Box Paper Tags 5"\\vintage R&b Hard Plastic Doll For Parts Or Repair 14" Tall Made In UsaAfrican American Black Hard Plastic Antique Vintage Doll - Fabulous Eyes!Hard Plastic Walker Mary Jane Doll 16 Inches21 Inch Vintage Walking DollVintage 5 1/2" Nancy Ann Hard Plastic Story Book Doll Usa Jointed 1948-1950 Antique Educational Diabetes Doll, Medic Lex Inc. 1978 Rare, Case