Among the most popular dolls of the mid-20th century were the many walking dolls of the day. But these dolls have their origins in mechanical wonders and toys of the past. From the dawn of time humankind has been fascinated by miniature images of ourselves. The more realistic, the better. This desire led to automated figures which seemingly moved on their own. Ancient recorded history tells us of water powered, gravity powered and steam driven mechanical marvels. By the medieval and renaissance
By the time of the
Jules Nicholas Steiner produced walking dolls based on his 1890 patent for Bébé Marcheur dit Bébé Premier Pas. The Steiner method of making light-weight bodies helped to compensate for the weight of the machinery they concealed.
One of the most often used mechanisms for walking dolls was that of the basic step forward – head turning type employed by doll makers from the late 19th century right through to the 21st century.
Patent records abound with concepts for making this type of doll and improvements on previous designs.
On Oct 24, 1893 Claude Joseph Simonot was granted a US patent #507174 (his design was already patented in France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, and Austria-Hungary) for a walking mechanism for dolls. His patented idea allowed for the doll’s head to turn to the side with each step forward.
By the early 20th century others were inventing refinements or improvements to this basic mechanism. In 1903 Franz Reinhardt of the Kämmer & Reinhardt firm would receive such a patent. K*R would produce many walking dolls based on this mechanism.
This same basic, albeit updated and improved type of mechanism would be used for the plethora of walking dolls made in the 1950s such as Ideal’s Saucy Walker, Vogue’s Ginny and the countless other makers of similar dolls. The patents used for the mechanisms in these dolls often cited earlier patents when discussing their new improvements in design.
Other variations on the walking doll relied on mechanical gears and pulleys to achieve motion. The walking dolls by the Advance Doll Co. had wheels on the bottoms of their molded shoes which aided their movement.
By the 1960s Mattel’s mechanical genius Jack Ryan was patenting improvements for walking doll mechanisms. His designs were used for Baby First Step, Swingy and a long line of other automated dolls made by Mattel.
Inventors of the last quarter of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st continue to build on the concepts of the past, allowing dolls to keep putting their best foot forward.
Author – Linda Edward
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