Helena and Martii Kuuskoski of Finland made the earliest commercial Trolls during the 1950s, which were called Fauni Trolls.
But the Trolls we all know and love came a bit later. In 1959, as the story goes, when Thomas Dam didn’t have the funds for his daughter’s birthday present, he carved a little doll for her, based on the legendary trolls that supposedly lived in the Nordic forests.
Dam’s daughter dressed her new toy up and showed him off around the village, and it wasn’t long before a local toy storeowner surrendered to the ugly little guy’s charms. Oh, the jolt of that first troll love.
And it had to be love, because it sure wasn’t any skin-deep beauty that we fell for. Trolls were short and typically underdressed, they had pot bellies, huge ears and eyes, no forehead, and long strands of wildly coloured, woolly hair that brought new meaning to the hair world phrase “hard to manage”.
And that’s saying nothing of the tiny Trolls that came perched on top of pencils, because when you put those guys between your palms and gave them a little Whirly Bird spin, the results were darn near scary. But scary in a cute way, if you know what we mean.
Thanks to Thomas Dam’s woodcarvings, the Danish company called (yes, it’s their real name) the Dam Things Establishment started churning out their moulded plastic trolls in the late 1950s. By the mid-60s, they were selling like crazy.
In America, they were a toy favourite to the hippies, and quite on the other end of the conformity spectrum, to the former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. For a year or two there, the Troll was second in sales only to Barbie, who never let anybody laugh at the way she looked, incidentally – be it for good luck or not.
It wasn’t long before Trolls were manufactured by plenty of toy companies besides Dam. Uneeda made the memorable Wishnik line, which included notorious design experiments like curly-hair and rhinestone eyes. Late on, companies like Hasbro, Mattel, Russ Berry, Nyform, Trollkins and Ace Novelty jumped aboard the Troll train.
Collectively, they ranged from a few inches to life-sized, and they came in all sorts of get-ups: vampires, bride and groom couples, Rastafarians, cowboys, rock stars, athletes and superheroes.
There were Trolls with beards and different coloured bodies; there were play sets and carrying cases; and there were clothes sold separately from the dolls – a Halloween costume, for example, if your Troll felt like he didn’t look weird enough on his own.
Because of their craftsmanship, the Dam dolls are probably the most sought after today. And if you’re lucky (and you should be, what with all those Trolls you own), you can get your hands on some of Dam’s elusive animal line, which included Troll creatures like elephants, cows, pigs, donkeys, turtles, giraffes, alligators and monkeys.
The Trolls’ popularity waned in the 70s and 80s, but they made a comeback in the 90s, thanks to popularised retro toy collecting.