Little People History
The Grand and Glorious History of Little People
Those special guys and gals (and doggies, too) that are referred to by Fisher Price as "Little People" take many shapes and forms. Certainly one of the most successful and well-recognized toy lines ever created, the Little People name lives on even to this day (1999), although it must be admitted that the current line of figures bear only a passing resemblance to their ancestors. Be that as it may, the origins and history of the Little People products is not only interesting, but surely ranks as a classic American success story, and certainly exemplifies the true spirit and character of the company logo "Our Work is Child's Play".
For convenience sake, the figures referred to as Little People can be broken down into four main categories and eras. Further details on each of these eras can be found further below.
The first signs of the Little People concept (the people themselves) really begins all the way back in 1932 with the creation of the #600 Woodsey Cart toys. There were six different version of this toy, with each one basically being a wooden hay-cart harnessed to a wooden circus figure (either an elephant, a bear, a lion, a pony, a dog, or a clown). On the top of the cart is a segmented wooden figure who "drives" the animal/cart unit, and it is this figure that previews the overall appearance of what was to one day become the Original Little People line. Made for one year only....they were obviously not that popular back then!.....they were the only human-like forms that resemble the later Little People that were made by Fisher Price for the next 18 years. Then, beginning in 1950, we begin to see more and more toys introduced that builds upon this original design......the most popular being the #7 Looky Fire Truck. In this very popular toy, you can really see the fundamental shape, size, and facial features of what was to become, almost a decade later, the "Original" Little People. Following the success of this toy, the company quickly developed the #415 Super-Jet and the ever-popular #730 Racing Rowboat toys, both of which were for sale during 1952-53. More toys followed, developing upon the same theme and style, all of which culminated with the introduction, in 1959, of the #983 Safety School Bus, which not only carried on the same tradition of human character features, but also, for the first time, had figures that were removable from their vehicles, thus greatly increasing their play potential and possibilities. The rest, of course, is history!
The Original Little People went through six major styles of body (base) configurations...and even within each major classification there may be one or more minor style variations. You can get more information on the Little People Body Styles page for the complete low-down on this subject, but for right now here's the basic breakdown:
The base is all wood or rolled cardboard, tall, and has a paper lithograph around the base. This style of person was used only on the #983 Safety School Bus.
The #168 and #169 Snorky Fire Engine firemen. All wood body and head, plastic hats, and plastic arms.
Wide base tall people used both on the #234 Nifty Station Wagon (60-62), and the #984 Safety School Bus (61-62).
Straight-sided people and dogs. All wood (always), they have no narrow "peg" on the base. First used on the #932 Amusement Park (63-66), and on other sets of this era #979 Dumptruckers (65-70), #969 early ferris wheel (66-72), etc.
Geometric-shaped base people, used with the #151 Goldilocks & Three Bears set (67-70), the #136 Lacing Shoe (65-70), and #146 Pull-A-Long Lacing Shoe (70-75).
The most prevelant of "little people" body styles is the wide body/narrow "peg" base version. This is what most people are referring to when talking about "little people". This style was introduced in 1965 in the #192 School Bus set, and was used until 1990.
The Chunky Little People....more commonly referred to as "Chunky People" or just "Chunkies"......were introduced in 1991. Most people believe that these figures were developed as a replacement for the Original Little People due to the increasing concerns and pressures from parents and consumer-advocacy groups for safer toy designs. There were many incidents of small children choking on small toys (or toy parts) during the 1980's that led to "watchdog" groups that evaluated and informed parents of the dangers involved with certain toy designs. The Fisher Price Original Little People products were no exception. In fact, a popular book of that time that dealt with these issues was titled "Toys That Kill" and prominently featured a trio of Original Little People figures on the cover. Published in 1986 by Edward Swartz (it's now out-of-print), it most certainly provided the motivation for Fisher Price to re-design their most popular Little People line to something more "acceptable"........and thus the Chunkies were born!
And finally there are the current version of the Little People line, alive and still kicking as the 21st century begins. Smaller in size than the Chunkies, but slightly larger than the Originals, these "soft" hard-rubber figures have a great level of detail and color to them, making them a worthy replacement and continuation of the Little People heritage. With their colorful appearance and greater level of anatomical detail, they will proudly carry the Little People into the new century with pride and success; after all, they are still Little People!
For more information on the Little People figures and other character figures made by Fisher Price over the years, please zoom on over to our Fisher-Price People types pages to see and read all about it!
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Identifying and Dating Your Toy
Here's a real can of worms........are you ready?
If you're trying to determine the identity of a particular toy, there are a few tricks that you can use.
First, you must determine the Fisher Price Model Number of the toy. The model number is either printed on one of the lithos, or is cast or stamped into the bottom of many wood or plastic base toys, and can be up to a 5-digit number. If your toy is a doll, the model number is printed onto the "care instructions" tag that is sewn onto the doll (normally on the bottom side; many times it's completely faded from use though). Once you have this model number, then go to our TOYS BY MODEL NUMBER area and select the appropriate model number range and find the particular toy that corresponds to the model number you have. NOTE: there are many instances where a Model Number was used more than once; for example, the #104 was first used in 1931 for the "Lookee Monk" pulltoy, then in 1971-72 for the game "Animal Scrabble Set", and finally again in 1981-on for the Music Box "Allouette".
So, let's say you've identified the proper Model Number, and it's an item that was made for a number of years.....such as the #991 Circus Train (1973-1986). Which year was "your" toy made? The best way is to look at the "date code" of manufacture that Fisher-Price started using in the early '70's. This is a small letter and number that is molded or stamped on the bottom or back of wood or plastic base toys. We have found that this date code works perfectly on all Little People airplanes, such as the #182 Airplane, #183 Funjet, the plane used in the #996 airport, etc. It also works perfectly on the Little People plastic barn bases, and on Little People train engines. This date code doesn't seem to work for ALL toys, though. We have a #944 Lift & Load Lumber Yard that has "S4" molded into the bottom of the base, according to the chart below, this means it was made in October 1974. This date is improbable since the #944 wasn't sold until 1979. Therefore, please be careful when using these date codes:
Fisher-Price Toys Date Code
*This chart was provided by Brad Cassity
If your toy has one of the letters mentioned in the chart above (A-X) and a number (0-9), then this date code may help you to identify the exact year and month that your toy was made. The letter represents the month, and the number represents the last digit of the year that the toy was made. Therefore, if you have a #996 Airport airplane and it has "D4" on the bottom, then that airplane was made in April 1974. Likewise, if you have a #915 plastic base barn and it has "T4" on the bottom of the base, then you know it was made in November 1984.
Please note that this date code system does not seem to apply to everything. If your toy is pre-1970, or it doesn't have a date code, then there is NO OTHER WAY to precisely determine the year that the toy was made.........unless the toy was made during a period in which one of the logos (below) was changed, or there was some significant visual change to the toy during those years (which is noted in our listings). Sorry, we know that's not the answer you want to hear, but it's true.
Also, beware: most toys that have the model number printed on a litho (or a sewn tag) also have a copyright date. The copyright date is NOT the date the toy was made; in fact, the copyright date normally proceeds the first year of production by 1-2 years (example: the 915 Farm has a copyright date of 1967 and it was introduced in 1968).
AND, to add to your confusion, consider this: as is standard within the auto industry, many toys are "introduced" during the calender year prior to their "model year". For example: the "1999" Chevrolet Camaro actually goes on-sale in September, 1998. This same practice is common in the toy biz: some (but not all) new toys are "introduced" during the previous calender-year. So a "new-for-1976" model toy may actually have been in the stores for the 1975 Holiday selling season (October-December).......since this season accounts for almost 50% of yearly toy sales, the manufacturers and retailers are always anxious to make the newest, latest, and greatest toys available during this buying frenzy. However, the toy never appeared in a "1975" catalog, only in the manufacturer's 1976 toy-line catalog (where it would be shown as "new for 1976")........which means, of course, that the "1976" catalog was actually produced sometime in 1975!
Think of it in this way:
In the above example, it's a 1975 toy; that's the first "catalog-year" that the item appeared for sale in a company sales brochure.
Whew! Are you confused yet? Don't worry. All of the dates on our site are listed by the catalog-year dates (according to when the toy first appeared in a manufacturer catalog or price list, and what "year" that catalog or price listed is dated) and NOT according to the actual real-life "calender year". So a "1976" toy, which first appeared in a "1976" catalog or price list, is listed as being a "1976" toy EVEN THOUGH IT COULD HAVE CONCEIVABLY BEEN PURCHASED AT A RETAIL STORE IN LATE 1975 (such as Sears or Macy's, etc.). We use the manufacturer's "catalog-date" to date the toys (and believe that you should, too).
WAIT, there's more! Because of the above "model-year" considerations, it may be possible that you will find a store catalog or advertisement (i.e. Sears) dated in 1975 with a toy listed on our site as being new in 1976. We use the manufacturer's "catalog-date" to date the toys! So, if you come across such a situation, don't panic; now you understand why!
One last thing: on many of the component pieces to the playsets (Little People, Adventure Series, Husky, etc.), some pieces will have a one or two letter/number cast into the piece (i.e. "2", "G", etc.). These are NOT date codes! As best as we can determine, these are the mold numbers that the item was produced in.......the company probably had several different molds that were used to produce, say, the black plastic wheels for the cars, and each mold had its own identification number ("2", etc.) for quality-assurance purposes. Click here for a quick peek!
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Another way to attempt to "date" a toy....especially the pre-'70 products......is through the study and analysis of the Company Logo Design that appears on the toy or on the packaging box. Since the company changed their logo a number of times, this method of dating can sometimes assist you, but most often (surprise!) just adds to the confusion. Here's why:
H I J
Let's go over them one at a time:
Introduced in the 1957 model year, it appears in catalogs, toys, and boxes until at least 1961......and has even been seen in some company catalogs and brochures until early in 1963. As usual, items made during this era sometimes carried this logo design, or may have still carried logo "A" or "B" (depending on the original toy introduction date)........or maybe they didn't! Having fun yet? Sometime during this period, the logo received an enhancement in the form of the words "An Original" above the red and blue circles, thus making the logo read as follows: "An Original Fisher-Price Toy". Although it is unknown when or why this change took place, our best guess is that it was inspired by the introduction of cheaper "look-alike" products by competitors, or even outright toy forgery by crooks........and this change would supposedly add reassurance to the customer that what she was getting was "the Real McCoy". Style "G" appears to be the "earlier" version, appearing in 1984. Style "H" seems to have been a later variation, but starts to appear more and more often beginning around 1989, and then predominating from about 1994-on.
This logo design hit the shelves for over 10 years, seeing its last use in 1983.
Introduced in the 1957 model year, it appears in catalogs, toys, and boxes until at least 1961......and has even been seen in some company catalogs and brochures until early in 1963. As usual, items made during this era sometimes carried this logo design, or may have still carried logo "A" or "B" (depending on the original toy introduction date)........or maybe they didn't! Having fun yet?
Sometime during this period, the logo received an enhancement in the form of the words "An Original" above the red and blue circles, thus making the logo read as follows: "An Original Fisher-Price Toy". Although it is unknown when or why this change took place, our best guess is that it was inspired by the introduction of cheaper "look-alike" products by competitors, or even outright toy forgery by crooks........and this change would supposedly add reassurance to the customer that what she was getting was "the Real McCoy".
Style "G" appears to be the "earlier" version, appearing in 1984. Style "H" seems to have been a later variation, but starts to appear more and more often beginning around 1989, and then predominating from about 1994-on.
Some final thoughts on logos and dating:
Prior to 1984, the company logo almost always appeared on the packaging box, and many times on the toy itself via a decal, tag, or lithograph. However, from 1984-up the corporate logos appeared on the toy itself less and less (but it still always appeared on the packaging).
And remember this: a toy that was made before and after a logo-change year may be difficult to date properly if you try to rely on the logo style as an indicator of the age. For example, the #915 farm was introduced in 1968, but in 1972 the company logo changed. But, 915 farms made in 1972-3 (or even later) may have had the earlier ('68-71) design logo printed on the roof litho. This isn't always true, but is certainly something to be aware of when trying to properly date an individual toy.
And finally there's the issue of logo use on the catalog vs. logo use on the box vs. logo use on the toy itself. In some cases, we've seen the catalog use one logo style, the box a different style, and the toy a third style......whew! In one case (and we haven't seen everything!) the box itself had three different logo's used on it, click here to see! It makes you wonder if the folks at FP had some sort of corporate logo-schizophrenia!!
Anyway, these are the facts, and are some of the many things you must consider when researching your lovable old toy! Happy hunting!
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Imitation, they say, is the greatest form of flattery. And though that may be true, in the case of copyright or trademark-protected products, it is also illegal.
Like so many other succesful, market-leading companies, Fisher Price has had its share of unauthorized competitors. Sometimes it takes the form of a "me-too" product........very similar to the original, but different enough (upon close inspection) to not infringe on any legal rights of the originator.
And then there's the pure unadulterated fakes...........such as the Illco "little riders" vehicles and the Mexican "JP" Company products such as the #146 Pull-Along Lacing Shoe and many others. Some, like the Mexican JP products, are easy to distinguish from the real ones.........the wording is all in Spanish...........while others, like the Illco vehicles and some Little People figures take a trained eye to distinguish. So, as always, "caveat emptor".............let the buyer beware!
Of course, if you're still confused, frustrated, or baffled, always feel free to write to us at email@example.com and we'll always be happy to try to assist you in any way possible!
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