This toy line combined cute, easily-handled little figures with nifty vehicles and playsets in a way that provided plenty of fuel for the youthful imagination. As a result, these toys have been consistent favourites among the pee-wee set for over four decades.
Although the Little People toy line would not be introduced until the late 1950s, Fisher-Price began experimenting with this kind of toy as early as the 1930s.
The first Little People-style toy was included on the Woodsey Cart, an animal-drawn vehicle that had a driver resembling what the average Little People figure would later look like. It had a round head with a painted cartoon face atop a cylinder-like solid body that was firmly attached to the vehicle.
The Woodsey Cart was soon discontinued and no other human-like characters appeared on any other Fisher-Price toy until the 1950s.
At this point, the little cylinder-shaped people began to appear once more on toy vehicles like the Looky Fire Truck and the Racing Rowboat.
The innovation that marked the beginning of the Little People arrived in 1959 with the release of the Safety School Bus. This vehicle allowed the user to actually remove the characters from their seats and move them around. Thus, the Little People were born.
The Little People became a big hit for Fisher-Price, and the company responded by producing a vast array of accessories to keep the Little People and their users occupied. First and foremost, there were plenty of cool Little People vehicles.
There were all sorts of vehicles ranging from little cars to multi-person trucks and buses. Of course, the Little People kids had the aforementioned Safety School Bus to take them around. There were even little tow-trucks to take care of the vehicles that ended up in Little Person accidents.
But what good are vehicles if you have nowhere to go? Fisher-Price quickly filled this void by creating an array of residences, businesses and other nifty destinations for the Little People to occupy.
There were homes for the Little People families to live in, complete with chairs, beds and televisions to keep the Little People well rested and entertained.
There were also schools that had desks and blackboards for educational purposes. The Little People could also visit airports and garages, the latter of which included ramps, elevators and a working bell. There were even Sesame Street and McDonald’s play sets for the Little People.
Clearly, the Little People and their playsets offered endless opportunities for the youthful imagination. As a result, they became some of the most popular toys of all time and a legacy item that kids of all generations would receive at a young age.
The basic design of the Little People remained the same as they moved into the 1960s and 1970s, but their body shape was occasionally altered for different playsets.
For instance, wide people with a tall base were used in the Nifty Station Wagon between 1960 and 1962, and people with a geometric-shaped base were used for the Goldilocks and the Three Bears set between 1967 and 1970.
As the Little People moved into the 1980s, they began to experience resistance for the first time from consumer watchdog groups and concerned parents who believed that the slim, small Little People had a design that was too hazardous for children.
These concerns reached a fever pitch in 1986 when a book entitled Toys That Kill was released and prominently featured three Little People on its cover.
Fisher-Price answered these concerns in 1991, altering the Little People by widening their body shape considerably. The new figures were soon dubbed “Chunky People” or “Chunkies” by Little People fans.
Today, the Little People continue to be as popular as ever. The Little People that are currently produced by Fisher-Price are made of rubber and are slightly smaller than the Chunkies.
They also continue to have plenty of vehicles and playsets. Some vehicles have been modernised to include battery power (so much for the old advertising claim that “Fisher-Price Toys don’t need batteries”), like the Press ‘N’ Go Remote Control.
Some of the playsets now utilise button-controlled sounds: a good example is the Home Sweet Home playset, which has a Nursery that plays a lullaby when a button is pressed.
Meanwhile, the classic Little People toys remain popular with toy enthusiasts and command high prices on the toy collectors’ market.
As long as young children need toys that can help bring their daydreams to life, Fisher-Price Little People will continue to help them turn those daydreams into playtime reality.