Wooly Willy is a toy in which metal filings are moved about with a magnetic wand to add features to a cartoon face. The toy was originally manufactured in Smethport, Pennsylvania and was launched on the toy market in 1955. It remains in production as of 2010.
Wooly Willy is "a face printed on cardboard under a bubble of plastic filled with metal filings that could be moved with a magnetic wand to create features like beards, mustaches, and shaggy eyebrows on the face."
The brothers Donald and James Herzog developed Wooly Willy while working in the Smethport Specialty Company, their father's toy production company, in Smethport, Pennsylvania, United States. The company produced tops, horseshoe-shaped magnets, and other toys until the vacuum forming devices of the 1940s and 1950s allowed the company to manufacture air-tight containers of transparent plastic. Such containers kept Wooly Willy's metal filings from leaking out and moisture that would rust the metal from leaking in. The artwork for the first Wooly Willy was created by artist Leonard Mackowski of nearby Bradford, Pa. His signature is found hidden in the grass on the reverse side. The Broadfield Toy Co., Inc., of Hempstead, New York, United States created a similar toy called Whiskers in 1925.
Priced at US$0.29, Wooly Willy was successfully launched on the market in 1955. A buyer for G. C. Murphy dime store chain initially purchased six dozen of the toy and expected not to sell them for a year. The buyer called Herzog just two days later and ordered a thousand dozen for nationwide distribution. F. W. Woolworth Company also distributed the toy. More than 75 million Wooly Willies have been sold.
Funny Face, Brunette Betty, and Dapper Dan were similar toys. Dapper Dan was featured on a 10-1/2" x 14" display card and was billed on the card as a "secret agent, chosen because of his easily disguised face. Alter his appearance to help him carry out his investigations." Pictures on the card depicted Dapper Dan as a scientist, detective, magician, and other characters.
Wooly Willy became a Baby Boomer hit, and remains in production as of 2010 by Smethport Specialty Company, which is now owned by Patch Products. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named Wooly Willy to its "Century of Toys List", a roll call of the most memorable and creative toys of the 20th century. In 2006, I Love Toys, the eighth in VH1's series of I Love… nostalgia shows, presented a countdown of the 100 greatest toys, chosen partially through public voting on vh1.com and also consideration of "sales, historical significance and longevity," according to VH1. Wooly Willy placed at #81.
- Waggoner, Susan (2007). Under the Tree: The Toys and Treats That Made Christmas Special, 1930-1970. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. p. 111. ISBN 978-1-58479-641-1.
- "Original Wooly Willy". Patch Products, Inc. 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
- Rich, Mark (2005). Warman's 101 Greatest Baby Boomer Toys. kp books. p. 193. ISBN 0-89689-220-4.
- Attoun, Marti. "Wooly Willy Attracting Smiles for 50 years". American Profile Sep. 27 - Oct. 5, p 12.
- "Toy Industry Association Announces Its "Century of Toys List"". Business Wire. 2003-01-21. Retrieved 2008-10-29.