A History of Innovation and Play


“The World Needs Better Toys”

It all started 86 years ago just south of Buffalo in East Aurora, when Herm Fisher, Irving Price, and Helen Schelle had an idea. ‘The world needs better toys,’ they thought. Toys that “appeal to the imagination, that do something new and surprising and funny.” Fisher-Price was (and is) the solution to that need. The company’s path of constant innovation and steadfastness to that original mission has allowed them to stay ahead from 1930 to today.

All Hands on Deck

Fisher-Price’s first product was “16 Hopefuls.” These 16 toys, made of splinter-resistant wood and heavy steel parts, were, as Fisher-Price put it, “whimsical and magical.” But as entrepreneurship tends to go, things did not go as planned. A decade later, upon developing a positive reputation and strong consumer base, the U.S. entered World War II. The government needed ‘all hands on deck’ from U.S. companies and Fisher-Price transitioned from making toys to making replacement parts for fighter planes, ammo crates, and medical chests.

Little People, Big Imagination

They returned to the post-war economy a few years later with a newfound interest in plastic. Plastic was versatile, colorful, and durable, allowing for the production of vivid, longer-lasting toys. It was an adaptation that led to many of Fisher-Price’s most popular toys including the “Play Family” now known as “Little People”.

The Study of Play

Fisher-Price broke new ground in the toy industry when they established their Fisher-Price Play Laboratory in 1961. Here they could observe children directly playing with their toys and receive immediate feedback. Perhaps their greatest innovation to date, the Laboratory is still in use today.


Near the end of the 1960s, Fisher-Price saw a great era of growth thanks to an acquisition from The Quaker Oats Company. The purchase allowed for them to build new lines for infants, expand into arts and crafts, and run TV advertising for the first time. Fisher-Price continued to expand beyond just toy manufacturing and began producing things from cribs to high chairs.

Fisher-Price would see another period of advancement in the 1990s following a merger with Mattel. This merger opened up Fisher-Price to new markets and allowed them to explore new products. The Power Wheels line saw huge success in this time period, creating pint-sized versions of some of the most popular cars on the road.

Innovation has been a common theme over the storied 86 year history of Fisher-Price. They now stand as one of the premier brands in the world of preschool toys. They adapted, innovated and stayed ahead of the competition, cementing themselves in Buffalo’s entrepreneurial history.


Did you know that Fisher Price played a role in our 2014 ‘Next Things Now’ video? Check it out here