The Strong’s founder, Margaret Woodbury Strong, had a particular interest in dolls and amassed one of the largest collections in the world. The National Museum of Play® at The Strong continues to refine and develop her collection, making it increasingly comprehensive and inclusive. It now includes more than 12,000 dolls and 2,800 paper dolls.
Since her introduction by Mattel in 1959, Barbie has dominated the toy world like no other doll. She even has her own category in the organizing scheme for National Museum of Play collections. Her design, marketing, and overall popularity, together with criticism from detractors, reveal much about American attitudes and values over the last 50-plus years. The museum’s Barbie collection includes more than 2,300 dolls and Barbie-related items from clothing and dollhouses to toy vehicles and pets. Included are five examples of Bild Lilli (the German doll that inspired the Barbie concept and design), the No. 1 and No. 2 Barbie (which launched the Barbie phenomenon), TeenTalk Barbie (infamous for her “math class is tough” line), and Totally Hair Barbie (the best-selling Barbie ever).
Dolls after 1950 (excluding Barbie)
According to some historians, the mid-20th century marks the golden age of American doll making. During World War II, manufacturers developed technologies for working with plastic, and after the war, no fewer than 84 American companies offered dolls of easily molded hard plastic and vinyl for girls to dress, walk, feed, and bathe. Other dolls had hair to comb, curl, and color. Television brought advertising for almost all of them into living rooms and directly to children. Excluding Barbie dolls, who have a collections category all by themselves, the museum holds more than 1,400 post-1950 dolls, including extensive examples of Vogue, Bratz, Madame Alexander, and Nancy Ann dolls, plus modern classics such as Cabbage Patch Kids and American Girl dolls.
See also Baby Doll, inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2008.
Dolls before 1950
Dolls became popular playthings for children in the early 1800s when German toymakers first offered mass-produced dolls of papier-mâché and when mothers and girls fashioned rag dolls from cheaper, factory-produced cloth. Since then, dolls have reflected rapid changes in manufacturing technology, raw materials, and consumer values and tastes. The more than 8,500 pre-1950 dolls in the museum’s collection feature elegant examples by French and German makers from the 19th century, cuddly cloth dolls, and popular American dolls from the 1930s and 1940s, such as Shirley Temple, Ginny, Betsy Wetsy, and Toni and Terri Lee dolls. Also included are many rarities such as Thomas Edison’s Phonographic Doll (1890), an A. Marque doll, and numerous fine examples of Bru and Jumeau dolls.
Paper dolls first appeared in France and England in the 18th century. Some early ones attempted to depict moral virtue and a pious demeanor; some illustrated actors and actresses for use on accompanying paper stages. Other paper dolls encouraged children to dress them in printed outfits or to fashion outfits from bits of fabric, lace, magazine pages, and tissue paper. In the 19th century, newspapers and magazines hoped to increase circulation by including pages of paper dolls to cut out and dress. In the 20th century, American magazines offered monthly installments in story series like “Dolly Dingle,” “Peggy Pryde,” Bonnie and Betty Bobbs,” “The Kewpies,” and “Polly and Peter Perkins.” “Betsy McCall” appeared in McCall’s magazine into the 1990s. The more than 2,800 paper dolls in the museum’s collection include early handmade dolls, paper dolls from newspapers and magazines, advertising paper dolls, and published paper dolls sold in toy departments and bookstores.
See also Paper Dolls game in Fun & Games.