For Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, the name Fisher-Price is synonymous with childhood. In fact, many of us came out of the womb and almost immediately encountered its Activity Center, an interactive toy that let you push buttons, turn dials, and move a tortoise and hare along a track. Then, there were those rainbow-colored plastic donuts known as Rock A Stack, the colorful and loud Popper Push Toy, the Marching Band kit with a drum, tambourine, cymbals, and maracas, and a wide variety of charming wooden pull toys shaped like animals, choo-choo trains, or even a rainbow-keyed xylophone.

As we grew up, we delighted in the magnetic Alphabet Letters that stuck to the magnetized chalkboard School Days lap desk, the Chatter Phone pull toy with its old-fashioned dial and cheerful face, and all the music boxes that resembled radios, TVs, and clocks that could be dialed to certain songs. And that’s not to mention perhaps the most well-loved of the company’s music boxes, the Fisher Price Change-A-Record. Last but not least, Fisher-Price created the Little People, a.k.a. Play Family, and all their elaborate playsets, which are the most collected of the company’s toys today.

Herman Fisher—with financial backing from Irving Price, Elbert Hubbard, and Helen Schelle—established Fisher-Price in East Aurora, New York, in 1930. The company, which started out producing pull toys made out of wood and lithographed paper, put a lot of thought into its designs, which had to meet the firm’s “five-point creed.” A Fisher-Price toy had to have intrinsic play value, ingenuity, strong construction, good value, and action.

These principles are obvious in its early pull toys, like the cycling monkey Lookee Monk, the acrobatic push clown Tumbling Tom, and the flat-bed riding Popeyes that rang bells or pounded drums. Of these pull toys, the ones with Walt Disney branding, like 1938’s Dopey and Doc and 1941’s Disney Circus, are most coveted by collectors today.

Up until 1969, Fisher-Price was owned by the four founders and a handful of stockholders. From 1969 to 1991, the company was a subsidiary of Quaker Oats. Briefly, in the 1990s, the company became independent again, only to be swallowed in 1993 by Barbie-making toy behemoth Mattel, which still owns the brand today.

In 1959, Fisher-Price introduced a pull toy called Safety School Bus (#983) that came with four wooden-peg people that could be removed. These 3-inch-tall figures were decorated with lithographed paper. The success of this toy led to two more like it, #168 Snorky Fire Engine and #234 Nifty Station Wagon, but the peg figures this time lost their lithographed clothes—instead their bodies were painted in primary colors. These figures are now referred to as Pre-Little People.

The first so-called “Little People” appeared in 1963, with the #932 Amusement Park and #719 Choo-Choo Train sets. These smaller wooden figures consisted of “straight-sided” bodie...

In 1965, Fisher-Price revamped the Play Family bodies to give them their “mushroom” shape—a standard that lasted until 1990. These new figures, which also came with plastic hair or hats, were first sold with the new School Bus (#192). Some straight-sided figures were sold side-by-side with the mushroom-shaped figures until 1973.

Plastic heads on wood bodies were also introduced in 1973. Two years later, Fisher-Price began to make the transition to all-plastic Little People. So in the '70s, it was possible to purchase a Play Family playset with a combination of all-wood, wood-and-plastic, and all-plastic figures in the same set. In 1975, the first licensed-character Little People set was introduced, based on Sesame Street. These toys are coveted by collectors now. The only other official Little People character toys were made for a 1990 McDonald’s playset.

By the 1980s, Little People were made only of plastic, and sold with few accessories. Then, in 1990, the original or “classic” Little People were determined to be a choking hazard for toddlers. By 1991, the line was replaced with wider plastic “Chunky” Little People, which were far less popular, and these were followed by the latest incarnation of bigger Little People in 1996. From the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, Fisher-Price produced two other types of action figures, called Adventure People and Husky Helpers.

Part of the reason vintage Little People are so hot right now is simply that parents remember the originals from their childhood, and want to have their kids play with the same toys. Little People figures and playsets that were played with and stored in hot attics may not have survived so well, with bubbles on their lithographed faces and designs. In contrast, mint-in-box playsets with all their original accessories command high prices from serious toy collectors.

Because the Little People were so wildly popular, many toy companies produced knockoffs, including Playskool Play Friends, Tomy People, and Ideal Playpal. ILLCO made some Walt Disney character figures and vehicles that fit with Little People toys and accessories, but Fisher-Price did not. The figures in Mattel’s Putt-Putt sets had bodies that fit the Little People vehicles and sets, but big wood heads. These Mattel toys are also rare and collectible now.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Fisher Price Little People Castle Lot- Rare Horse And DragonHuge Lot Vintage Fisher Price Loving Family Dream Dollhouse Furniture People +++Vintage 1982 Fisher Price Play Family Western Town In Original Box Little PeopleVintage Fisher Price Little People Sesame Street LotVintage Fisher Price Little People Sesame Street #938 Misc Lot 8 People Vintage Fisher Price Toy Little People Play Family Camper & Boathouse In BoxVintage Lot Of 15 Fisher Price Little People And 5 AccessoriesVintage 1987 Fisher Price Little People Parking Garage 2504 People Cars ExtrasVintage 1972 Fisher Price Little People #985 Happy Houseboat Boat PlaysetVintage Little People Fisher-price "a" Frame House Play-set Accessories Toy Lot#2 Vintage Fisher Price Little People Lot 65 Pieces#7 Vintage Fisher Price Little People Lot 103 Pieces16 Vintage Fisher Price Little People AnimalsVintage Lot 75 Fisher Price Little People Parts PeopleVintage 1972 Fisher Price Little People #985 Happy Houseboat Boat Playset Vintage 1976 Fisher Price Play Family Childrens Hospital Little People 931 PlusVintage Fisher Price Little People Camper SetVintage Fisher Price Little People CamperHuge Lot Of Vintage Fisher Price Construx Building Pieces-w/4 Instrution BookletLot Of (49) Vintage Fisher Price - Wooden / Plastic - Little People - Exc.1978 Vintage Fisher Price Woodsey Squirrel Family Log House Finger Puppets -lqqkVintage Fisher Price Little People Play Family A Frame House #990 + AccessoriesVintage Fisher Price Circus Train #991 With Clown Ring Master Circus Animals EtcVintage Fisher Price Little People #938 Sesame Street House Accessories OnlyVintage Lot Of Little People Wood 46 Pieces Fisher PriceVintage Fisher Price Little People Farm Set, 100% Complete 1986 #2501 Very NiceVintage 1971 Fisher Price Play Family Musical Merry Go Round W Box Little PeopleVintage Fisher Price Little People Tudor Home1965 Vintage Fisher Price School Bus, #192 Complete With 7 Wooden Little People Vintage Fisher Price Little People Large LotVintage Fisher Price Little People Play Family Circus Train 991 CompleteFisher Price Vintage Elephant #145- 1948Vintage Fisher Price Little People 35+ Pieces Farm Village Airport Town CamperVintage Fisher Price Little People Lot Mini Figures Automobiles Furniture MoreFisher Price Sesame Street Little People Vintage LotVintage Fisher Price Play Family Sesame Street Clubhouse #937Fisher Price Vintage Toy Food#6 Vintage Fisher Price Little People Lot 49 PiecesVintage Fisher Price Wood Wooden Little People Lot Of 13 Farm Village Airport Huge Lot Vtg Little Tikes Fisher Price Loving Family Figures People DollhouseFisher Price Little People Vintage Village A Frame House Town Bus Play LotVintage 1953 Space Blazer #750 - Fisher Price Wood Space Pull Toy - Super RareRare Vintage Fisher Price Little People Dog LotVintage 1980 Fisher Price Play Family House 952 W Little People & AccessoriesVintage Fisher Price Little People Farm Animals Cars Horses Cows Chickens SheepLot Of 6 Disneys Gummi Bears Posable Vinyl Figures Fisher Price 1985Vintage Doll Lot Dollhouse Girls Fisher Price 1990’s Loving Family 10 PeopleFisher Price Play Family Sesame Street Clubhouse #937 1977-79 Great ConditionVintage C.1971 Fisher Price Little People Play Family School House #923 PlasticVintage Fisher-price Little People Swimming Pool PlaysetVintage Lot Of Fisher Price Little People And AccVintage Fisher Price Little People Large Lot - 54 PiecesVintage Fisher Price Little People Animal Pals Huge Lot Toys 42 PiecesLot Vintage Fisher Price Little People Wooden Chairs Accessories Dentist DogVintage Antique Fisher Price School Bus #983 Ride On Toy Explorer Atv 1971 ToyVintage Fisher Price Sweet Streets School House With Accessories And PeopleFisher Price Little People Swimming Pool Playset 2526 W/ Accessories 1988#4 Vintage Fisher Price Little People Lot 48 PiecesFisher Price Vintage Little People Musical Ferris Wheel Works! 969Fisher-price 1985 Toy Fair Catalog Prototype Construx Power Dump (a)