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 Stage Coach Gold Star Stage Lines W/ Box Pull Toy Great ShaVintage Lot Fisher Price Little People Family Play Airport Set #996 Original BoxVintage Fisher Price Little People Castle Dragon King Woodsman Carriage PrincessVintage Fisher Price Little People Play Family 993 1974 Castle Lot With ExtrasVintage 1979 Fisher Price Little People Pop Up Camper Jeep & Boat PlaysetFisher Price Little People Play Family Castle Vintage Dragon Knight CarriageVintage 1970s Fisher Price Toy Movie Viewer 460 With 15 MoviesLot Vintage Fisher Price Little People Play Family Circus Train 991 Animal 15 PcHuge Vintage Fisher Price Little People Lot Vehicles-furniture-see-saw-92 PcsVintage Fisher Price Children's Hospital #931 Operating Table Xray PrivacyscreenVintage 1968 Fisher Price Farm Set With Little People And Animals - 22 PiecesVtg Fisher-price Little People Amusement Park Chair Ride Swing Train Boats CarsVintage Fisher Price Little People Play Family Camper Accessories Boat TableFisher Price Little People Vintage 'parking Garage'Adorable Vintage Fisher Price 'snoopy' Walking Wooden Dog Toy - Pb A05Vintage Fisher Price Little People Castle Pink Dragon W/ Horns And HorseFisher-price Vintage Play Food Can Opener, Crisco, Alphabet Soup, Veggies 19871971 Fisher Price Music Box-record Player # 995 - Works Great! Classic 5 RecordsVintage Fisher Price Adventure People LotOver 100 Vintage Fisher Price Little People Swimming Pool And MoreHuge Lot 100+ Vintage Fisher Price All Wood Little People Accessories Cars 1970sFisher Price Little People Vintage 'tudor House'50+ Pc. Vintage Fisher Price Little People Toys Lot - Figures Vehicles & MoreFisher-price Vintage Play Food Picnic Basket 1987Fisher Price Vintage Little People Play Family Camper #9941969 Fisher Price Play Family House Little People Dog Cars ChairsVintage 1970s Fisher Price Play Family A Frame House W/ Assorted Furniture #200Vintage 15" (38cm)vintage Fisher Price Baby Doll - 30 Year Old - Tiny Tears TypeVintage Lot 6 Fisher Price Little People 915 Farm Animals/figures Horses/farmer+Vintage Lot Of Fisher Price Fun With Food Fisher Price Little People Vintage 'ferris Wheel'Vintage 1987 Fisher Price Little People Play Family Castle/figures/furniture BoxVintage Fisher Price 1973 Circus Train 991 Little People Animals Cars Toot TootVintage Fisher Price Little People Play Family Fire Station #928 Complete W/boxVintage Fisher Price Music Box Record Player 1971Fisher Price Little People Vintage 'record Player Music Box' With 5 DiscsVintage Fisher Price Record Player With Lot Of 30+ Children's RecordsFisher Price Play Family House 1969 Vintage 46 Little People Dog Toy AccesoriesFisher-price Vintage Play Food Waffles, Surup, & Pancake Lot 1987Lot Of Vintage Fisher Price Little People And Accessories 86 TotalVintage Fisher Price Little People Huge LotFisher Price Little People Vintage House, Bath And Utility Set #725 And #728Fisher Price Little People Vintage Swimming Pool With Diving BoardHuge Vintage Fisher-price Little People Lot Main Street 7 Mail Mailbox Truck +++Vintage Fisher Price Fp Little People Parts #992 Pop Up Camper Jeep & MoreVintage Fisher Price Little People Circus TrainFisher Price Little People Vintage 'main Street'Vintage Fisher Price Family Farm Play Set 1967 Little People, Animals, Barn CaseVintage Fisher-price #310 Rolling Bunny BasketVintage Fisher Price Little People 993 Play Family Castle Dragon Black Horse LotVintage 1988 Fisher Price Pocket Rockers Tape Player With 9 Tapes, Works Great! Vintage Fisher Price Little People Lot Plane Sesame Street Farm Animals BarnFisher-price Vintage Play Food Cupcakes And Cupcake Holder 1987Vintage Fisher Price Little People Sesame Street Grover Hairy Harry MonsterVintage Fisher Price Little People - Lot Of 30 Pieces - Fisher-price Vintage Play Food Breakfast Lot & Skillet 1987Fisher Price Vintage Little People Circus Train CarsVintage Fisher Price Little People Lot 2 Cowboy/sheriff Figures 934 Western TownFisher Price Vtg 1993 Dollhouse Loving Family Dream House Kitchen Folds Up 6364Fisher Price Little People Castle #993 Rare Dated 1974