Those ‘Little People’ are out again. But where to this time? Off on holiday, lounging at home, in the car, on the beach? Yes, Fisher-Price’s popular family have had more experiences than the average family but continue to be hugely popular toys. Created in the 1960s as ‘The Play Family’, this colorful group of people started out as wooden peg-style characters but is now a detailed plastic family.
And it’s all thanks to the Fisher-Price company. Started 88 years ago, Fisher-Price has become known for their huge range of play items, from animals, cars and garages to Disney branded items and even baby equipment such as high chairs and bouncers.
Nowadays, it’s hard to find any toy collection that doesn’t have a Fisher-Price item as part of it.
In 1930, the aim of the company, according to Wikipedia, was to create toys with ‘intrinsic play value, ingenuity, strong construction, good value for the money, and action’. Although now famously plastic, their pre-1950s collection was made of heavy steel parts and ponderosa pine, which resisted splintering and held up well to heavy use.
So take a walk down memory lane, have a look at some of their vintage offerings and remember the fun that could be had as children thanks to Fisher-Price.
21 Off On Holidays
In 1973 the Little People decided they needed a holiday, with this magnificent family camper van being the result. The set came with 5 characters too, so the possibility for family holiday adventures was endless.
‘Green dad’ might have bought this as a treat for ‘blue mom with fancy eyes and a blonde ponytail’ and they both enjoyed taking ‘red girl’ and ‘yellow boy smiling with freckles’ away for road trips. And of course, they never forgot to take ‘black dog with a red collar’ (thanks to Thisoldtoy.com for these great descriptions!).
Complete with a fully fitted bathroom, table and chairs and BBQ, the family upgraded to the Popup Camper in the early 80s.
20 At The Airport
The year 1973 was also the time that the Little People decided to go abroad. The vintage airport base included all the details you would expect from these sets, even giving children the chance to land their helicopter on the rooftop helipad. The plastic pull-along airplane had a wooden-headed pilot who could look from side to side to check for safety issues. Children would have been delighted to find a whole range of accessories to play with. Lots of moms will remember refueling, loading up the luggage into the luggage car and making all the appropriate airplane noises as they flew around the living room.
19 Fun For Babies
Whilst the environmentally-minded families of today might balk at the enormous use of plastic, these Fisher Price Activity Centers were all the rage.
Babies of the 1980s were more than likely to have had one of these hanging in their cribs waiting to entertain them.
Whilst some were artistically built to look like a house, others were a simple rectangle with activities to stimulate the baby’s senses and help their fine motor skills to develop. With rattly balls, dinging bells and lots of movement and color, these were designed to be fun and developmental. Cleaning them, on the other hand, is not such a fun task, although spare parts can still be purchased to this day.
18 Down At The Dumper Truck Yard
Remember these angry-looking little guys? They had clearly had a long, hard day at work in their dumper trucks! Children of the 1960s would have loved these colorful workers with their automated bucket filling station. Back up the truck and either fill it with the ball or empty it out again. Children loved shunting round to the back for a full service or using the plastic fuel pump on the side. And as with all the best preschool toys, toddlers simultaneously learned about yellow squares, red circles, and blue triangles. Educational and fun, this toy is still for sale, along with a whole range of different sized dump trucks.
17 Soft Toys Also Available
Who remembers squashing a cuddly turtle into a plastic shell? Or a small mouse into a plastic cheese? Or even a little pony into its stable?
If this is a memory that resonates, then your household had Smooshees. Although only in production for a year from 1988-1989, Fisher-Price launched a surprisingly large range including fish, bears, birds, raccoons, elephants and a range of humans from around the world. Cute and appealing with their printed faces, these toys were super soft as they were designed to squish into their plastic accessories. With everything from wardrobes to vehicles, the Smooshee collection was large and slightly random.
16 Ride On
What mom doesn’t love a ride on a toy flitting around beneath her feet? Although they are brilliant for encouraging your preschooler to move independently, build leg muscles and increase hand-eye coordination, most moms have almost fallen after being unexpectedly hit in the ankles by an overly zealous 2-year-old.
The 1971 Fisher Price 980 Atv Explorer 6 Wheel Kids Ride On was hugely popular and models of it are still selling well today. Complete with 2 heavily mustached and happy looking drivers, the squeaky horn on the steering wheel and the gear lever probably weren’t irritating at all to parents everywhere.
15 Ring, Ring
So much more colorful and quite frankly, friendlier-looking than today's modern mobile phone toys, the classic vintage pull along telephone has been a staple toy in many households since the 1960s.
Remember the cute rolling eyes and the chattering sound it would make as it was pulled proudly around the home? It was introduced in 1962 as a way to teach children to use the telephone and was recommended for toddlers aged 12-36 months. In 2000, the company decided to update the phone and gave it flashy push buttons, but after customer complaints, the rotary dial returned for good.
14 Time To Pay
Dating from the 1960s, Fisher Price’s original cash register had a metal bell and was made of wood and plastic. Soon after, it turned totally plastic and hasn’t changed much since then. Moms can enjoy a brand new version of exactly the same toy they loved to play shop with during the 1970s.
This is more than a toy; it teaches children about money and shopping. It teaches color and numbers.
It also encourages the development of fine motor skills as children can push, pull and twist the various buttons and knobs. Plus it has that super memorable ‘ding’ as the drawer pops open.
13 Takeaway Time
If the Little People were extremely lucky they might be able to go out for a takeaway. The 1970s saw yet another amazing play experience emerge for the Fisher Price family; the ability to get a KFC for dinner. Complete with an actual Colonel Sanders and a box of chicken that is literally as big as some of the junior family members, it is little wonder that they needed a couple of loungers to rest on after the feast.
Originally made in wood, the swing plastic doors and play slide is in keeping with the usual detail that generations have come to love from this company.
12 Luxury Holidays
The Holiday Inn is the venue for the official Little People family reunion in yet another detail packed playset. This 1974 set echoed the popular hotel chain and according to Thisoldtoy.com came with a huge variety of amenities including ‘inviting lobby with revolving doors; family restaurant with a full buffet, deluxe rooms with full bath, outdoor pool, playground, and even a dog kennel for vacationing pet lovers’.
Whilst children of the 1970s happily chewed on, slobbered over and sat on the parts of this toy it is now a rare and extremely valuable toy, with the flags, cards, linen cart, and the dog being very hard to find pieces.
11 Spinning Some Discs
First available between 1971 and 1983, the Fisher-Price record player was re-released in 2010, having already entertained several generations of children. This enduring favorite features 5 colorful double-sided records which play a total of 10 nursery rhymes and children’s songs.
Remember packing those colorful little discs away inside the player and proudly carrying the music center around? A little bulkier than today’s music players, but a classic that proves children will always enjoy music. Finding a vintage version, particularly with a full set of complete stickers is quite rare, so treasure the memories you do have of this fine toy.
10 Off To The Circus
In real life, if anyone ran into this collection of people they would probably run for the hills. But in this case, children adored playing with the stern looking ringmaster, the clown with the jaunty hat and the mysterious man with the red neck scarf. The animals with their movable limbs were bright and colorful and a favorite 1960s toy. What made this set really stand out was the fact that all the accessories would fit into the circus wagon, whose removable roof made picking out and arranging the 30 pieces all the more fun.
Animals, wagons, ladders, cages, and people; this set had it all.
9 Cruising Down The River
It is good to see that the little girl is being very responsible here, wearing her lifejacket as she teeters on the edge of the Little People River Cruiser. This family had the best holidays ever - if they weren’t staying at the local hotel, camping or going abroad they could always go for a cruise down the river. Manufactured between 1972 and 1976 this was the company’s first toy intended for water use and as such the boat and furniture were made of a special water-resistant type vinyl material that would hold up quite well when submerged. The little white captain was the first all plastic figure.
8 TV Time
The Giant Screen Two Tune TV first arrived on the toy shelves in 1966, which was a whole year before the UK had any color TV broadcast at all. Fisher-Price was clearly listening carefully when the BBC announced their plans for color TV in 1966 and jumped in with this children’s treat. By twisting the bright yellow button children could watch two stories scroll across the screen whilst listening to some delightfully jingly music. Ahead of its time and still made in the same retro style today, this was hours of visual fun for kids of the 1960s and 1970s.
7 Educational And Fun
In 1972, the School Days Play Desk was launched. Activity tables are designed to be colorful, fun and developmentally functional for a toddler and this play desk covered all bases. Who can forget the excitement of sliding back the little pictures to find a whole set of magnetic numbers and letters? Who remembers learning to read their first words from these brightly colored stickers? Or the challenge of using the letters to spell the words on the cards? As with all Fisher-Price products all the parts were neatly packaged so that a child could put all the parts away inside the desk and carry it away.
6 Pull-Along Mickey
Pull Along Mickey was part of a range that was popular between 1955-1965. Made out of wood, Mickey and his friends, who included Tawny Tiger, Teddy Tooter, Peter Pig and Gabby Goofy’s Duck Family, were simple but effective. Kids from the 50s will remember feeling the excitement from activating the drumming simply by pulling the toy along with its string. No batteries, no complicated mechanics, nothing to build, just a smiley mouse hitting a tin. Even earlier examples from the 1930s are still around today, proving that these simple toys were made to last and have given pleasure to several generations of children.
5 One For The Musicians
Show me a mom who doesn’t love a musical instrument! Yes, it is of course not at all irritating when a toddler constantly hits something noisy, but at least with this pull along xylophone, there was hope of a tune.
All toddlers love music so it’s not surprising that this classic from 1957 is virtually unchanged today, including the mallet attached by a string so it never gets lost. With a pull-along string and pretty red wheels, the traveling toddler can busk wherever they see fit on the rainbow colored bars. And if mom fancies a go she can show off her skills with a little rendition of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’.
4 There Was An Old Woman...
Who knows if this toy was based on a real-life story, but Fisher-Price never misses a treat and used the tale of the lady who lived in a shoe with a huge amount of children to bring more joy to playtime. The real purpose of this toy is to teach a preschooler to lace up a shoe, a vital skill that kids from the 1970s must have been finding tricky as this was a popular toy. As well as the giant laces, the toy came with a wooden mom figure and various numbers of children depending on the year. Lift up the front of the boot and all the family can snuggle in.
3 Nutritious Play
Play kitchens and play food are big business. Nowadays some kitchens have really gone large, so if there is room in the house the kids can enjoy their own walk-in cooking experience. However, if play space is not so spacious the range of plastic foods available from Fisher-Price is staggering. You could buy this set with the can opener, cans, plates, carrots, beans and corn between 1987 and 1988. Just like a real can opener, kids could enjoy actually opening the supplied cans by twisting the handle and waiting for the big popping sound.
Another portion of plastic peas anyone?
2 Roll Up!
Designed for children aged birth to 4, the Roly Poly Chime Ball was one of Fisher-Price’s best sellers. The company originally produced two - one with cute little sailboats and this one with the rocking horses. The horses galloped away in the popularity stakes and whilst the sailboats were stopped after one year, this version was in production between 1967 and 1985. Who remembers that beautiful chiming sound as the ball rolls across the floor? And if kids were daring enough to take this airtight globe into the bath even more fun could be had bobbing it about in the water.
1 Helping With Those First Steps
Is it an activity center? Is it a walker? Is it a really practical toy that folds away and is very easy to clean as it is all plastic? A resounding ‘yes!’ to all of these questions. Fisher-Price bought rights to the Corn Popper in 1957 and the idea of helping toddlers to walk more confidently has kept developing ever since.
Easy to grip, surely everyone has seen a smiley toddler confidently stagger across a room with his walker? And when the little legs are tired it’s time to sit down and play with the various twisty turny push and pull activities on the front.
It's a winning design that is still super popular today.
Sources: eBay, YouTube, Pinterest, BargainMax, Wikipedia, Toys Wikia, and Thisoldtoy.com.