In the early twentieth century, Rose O’Neill was achieving some success as a magazine illustrator, when some decorative cupids she had drawn for a love story caught the eye of an editor at The Ladies Home Journal. Edward Bok approached O’Neill about writing stories for the creatures that she would illustrate. O’Neill offered to write the text herself and began to ponder the type of stories she should produce. The playful attitude and antics of her newly styled "Kewpies" came to her in a dream, and the artist combined the innocence of these creatures with looks and gestures from childhood sketches of her baby brother. The first Kewpie Pages appeared in the 1909 Christmas issue of The Ladies Home Journal and were an immediate success. Magazines featuring the Kewpies sold thousands of copies, and O’Neill was soon receiving requests to license the characters for everything from kitchen utensils to doorknockers. The first "Kewpie Kutout" paper dolls appeared in 1912, and there were immediate calls for a doll children could hold. The first dolls — with their signature molded tuft of hair in center of the forehead — were patented in 1913, and there were soon 21 factories turning out nine sizes of Kewpie dolls.
While the Kewpie sensation was preceded by the fad for teddy bears, its combination of trademarked design, mass marketing, merchandizing and large–scale production would prove the pattern for successful toy manufacturing in twentieth century America. In fact, the American blend of entrepreneurship, mass production and fun would prove an unprecedented bonanza for children. Mass–produced, inexpensive toys would become widely available and were promoted by urban department stores, mail-order catalogs, radio, television and ultimately, large-scale chains of exclusively toy retailers. The easy availability of toys created shared experiences defining childhood, generations and popular culture in the United States. This historic phenomenon is the focus of toy enthusiast Sharon Scott’s Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopedia.
From action figures and Barbie dolls to View-Masters and yo-yos, most of the 175 entries of this encyclopedia feature popular twentieth century toys. Brand name items include Colorforms, Frisbees, Hula Hoops, Raggedy Ann, Slinkies, and Transformers. The entries describe the basic features of the product as well as their historic and social contexts. Changes in the product and major controversies are also noted. Some entries also explore the popularity of traditional types of toys such as airplanes, banks, dollhouses, guns, marbles and wind-up toys. Character merchandise gets particular attention. From Joshua Lionel Cowen, the inventor of Lionel Trains, to Ty Warner, the mogul of Beanie Babies, brief biographies outline the careers of successful toy designers. Corporate histories feature manufacturers, marketing giants and retailers. Thus, the entries include Mattel, Marx and Disney as well as FAO Schwartz, Sears and Walmart. Selected articles explore the relationship of toys to advertising, art, food and science. Issues of product safety, gender and race stereotyping and free trade are examined in articles on manufacturing, merchandizing, and monitoring organizations. The importance of toy culture is reflected in entries on museum collections and events. A special timeline links toy innovations with political and social history. The research guide includes printed books, online resources, films, organizations, toy shows and museums. Unfortunately, the high quality of the work has been compromised by poor copy editing, resulting in many misspelled words. Nonetheless, this entertaining guide to American culture will find an interested audience in school, public and academic libraries.