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Little People is a toy brand for preschoolers, originally produced by Fisher-Price in the 1960s as the Play Family People. The current product line consists of playsets, mini-sets and accessories, books, CDs, and DVDs focusing on various configurations of nine characters named Eddie, Sarah Lynn, Maggie, Michael Sonya Lee, Tessa, Mia, Koby and Sofie.
The "Little People" name, registered and trademarked by Fisher-Price in 1985, came from Fisher-Price following the lead of consumers who referred to the early Play Family playsets as "those little people".
Original Little People
Little People started in 1950 with the "Looky Fire Truck" and three round-headed fire men (attached permanently to the toy). Following the success of this toy, in 1952 and 1953 Fisher-Price developed the "Super-Jet" and "Racing Rowboat".
Another early Little People precursor, the "Safety School Bus", was introduced in 1959. The set included a school bus together with six independent figures made out of tall skinny pegs of cardboard tubes wrapped in lithographs simulating clothes. The toy gained instant popularity and other sets soon came out.
Little People Play Family
In 1960, Fisher-Price introduced two additional toys with removable figures; "Snorky the Fire Engine" and the "Nifty Station Wagon". The Nifty Station Wagon came with two adult figures and one child figure, thus the first "Play Family" was born. Today, Little People are known and sold throughout the world. A Nifty Station Wagon in mint condition, in the box, could command up to $1,000,000 among toy collectors.
Body Style Variations
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. By 1961, the figures were produced with wood; plastic was used for their vehicles and buildings. A few years later, the typical happy face of the traditional Little People debuted in a "straight-body" format. All of the people had a basic cylinder body with the female figures only identifiable by the addition of slanted, oval eyes and eyelashes. By 1965, the Little People consisted of a small cylindrical base and a wider cylinder shape for boys and men and a conical upper shape for the girls. Adult women had a kind of hourglass-shaped upper body. The bottom portions of the bodies were indented slightly (allowing for placement in the corresponding holes in various furniture, cars and other vehicles, in which the figures were able to "sit").
Little People Playsets
In 1968, Fisher-Price introduced the first Little People playset, the famous Play Family Barn with barn doors that made a "moo" sound when opened. Also at this time, the figures were made with plastic bodies instead of wood. The Play Family dollhouse was introduced in 1969, with other playsets to following, including a firehouse, an airport and a service station. Eventually, the toys encompassed a wide range of playsets, furniture packs, and accessory packs.
In the middle 1970s, Fisher-Price produced the Sesame Street town, with various Sesame Street stores, a bridge with stop lights and Sesame Street characters such as Bert, Ernie, and the only Little People toys that have been modeled after celebrities -- Loretta Long (Susan), Roscoe Orman (Gordon) and Will Lee (Mr. Hooper). Soon after, the Little People Discovery Airport, a hospital and a school would also be released. Little People characters had by then been also produced with plastic products exclusively.
Chunky Little People
In 1988, Marvel Entertainment made an animated series of 5 Little People videos such as Favorite Songs, 3 Favorite Stories, A Visit to the Farm, Jokes Riddles and Rhymes and Christmas Fun, which were released by New World Video. This video series centered around two children named Timmy and Penny and their Baby Sister, their parents, and their dog Lucky and it included the voices of Michael Bell, Meredith Baker, Victor DiMattia, Russi Taylor, Scott Menville, Josh Rodine, Jena Valee and Katie Leigh. In 1991, the Original Little People figures were redesigned for younger children. They were made "chunkier", were more bright and colorful, and were designed so that they could activate motion within the play sets. 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. A book published in 1986 by Edward Swartz titled Toys That Kill prominently featured a trio of original Little People figures on the cover. After Fisher-Price was bought by Mattel in the 1990s, Little People reappeared on the markets, their figure significantly larger in size from the original Little People characters due to revised toy safety guidelines. These figures are called "chunky" by collectors.
Articulated Little People
In 1997, the figures underwent a drastic redesign, from simple lathe-turned shapes to sculpted bodies. Little People became much more detailed and smaller in overall size – in fact, closer in size to the original Little People. For the first time, the Little People figures had arms, hands, more detailed clothing, molded hair and facial features.
In 1999, Little People celebrated their 40th birthday with the reintroduction of the first Little People toy ever: Little People School Bus and characters. The play sets include the school bus, circus train, construction vehicles and other play sets.
In 2000, the Little People line introduced electronic sounds and movement. The Little People characters were given distinct personalities and voices in a Stop motion animated video and DVD series in 1999, with Aaron Neville singing the theme song.
Little People A to Z Learning Zoo
In 2007, Little People produced the A to Z learning zoo. This production introduced animals to the Little People family. The A to Z learning zoo includes 26 animals that each begin with a different letter of the alphabet. This interactive play mat allows children to learn the alphabet, recognize letters, and learn facts about animals. This was a huge step for the company because now education is infused in their product.
- This Old Toy's Original "Little People History"
- Behold the Little People - The Life and Death of America's Favorite Play Family by Mark Simple, in X magazine #7, July 1991)
- History of Mattel[dead link]
- History of Mattel "Mattel History". Mattel. Mattel, Inc. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
- Fisher-Price Little People at Retroland
- Tricia Cruz (2009-03-27). "Celebrating 50 years of "Little People"". WIVB.com.
- Official Little People Website
- Interview with Bob Jourdian, Director of Product Development at Fisher Price about the history and evolution of the Little People.