Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

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 periods small mechanical novelties and toys were made for the amusement of the ruling classes.

By the time of the 19th century mechanical dolls were being made for the masses. Key wind mechanisms such as the ones patented by Enoch Rice Morrison in 1862 and William Goodwin in 1870 relied on clockwork-type mechanisms which propelled their dolls forward once wound.

 Autoperipatetikos patented by Enoch Rice Morrisonon July 15, 1862, manufactured by Martin and Runyon of New York City.  ‘Autoperipatetikos’ means ‘the automatic walking one’ and ran on a key-wind clockwork mechanism which made the doll’s legs move up and down and propel the doll forward. Examples of this doll have been found with heads of pressed cloth, paper mache, untinted bisque, china, and wax-over-paper mache.

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.

This 24″ Premier Pas by was invented by Jules Nicholas Steiner in 1890. This doll also used a key-wind mechanism.  Photo courtesy of When Dreams Come True Doll Shop on Ruby Lane

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.

 The 1893 patent of Claude Simonot led to the refinements patented by Franz Reinhardt in 1903 for his walking doll. The Kammer & Reinhardt doll here is 16″ tall. Doll photo courtesy of Linda Ellen Brown-Trinckes on Ruby Lane.

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.

The 1953 patent design of Henry Cleaver was assigned to the Vogue Doll Co., in his patent application Cleaver cites the 19th century patent of Simonot. Vogue used this mechanism and further improvements to it for their Walking Ginny dolls such as the painted-Lash Walker and Bent-Knee- Walker shown here.
Ideal’s Saucy Walker was among the most popular walking dolls of her era. This hard-plastic doll was available from 1951 to 1955 in 14″, 16″ and 22″ sizes. Doll photo courtesy of Emmie’s Antique Doll Castle on Ruby Lane.

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.

The Advance Doll & Toy Company began making their walking dolls in 1954. These were sold as Winnie and Wanda, as well as being costumed in novelty outfits such as the original bunny suit seen on the doll on the left. The bottoms of their feet show the rollers that enabled the doll to glide along when the mechanism was wound and engaged.

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.

Innovative designs continued to bring new walking dolls to the hands of children such as Jack Ryan’s design which made Mattel’s Baby First Step walk on her on once her battery-operated power was switched on.

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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