“She’s a Wonderful Doll, She’s Ideal” was the tagline used by the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company’s television commercials of the 1950s and 60s. This slogan was quintessential to the company’s goals for their doll lines. From the beginning of Ideal’s foray into toy and doll making the company focused on making well-designed dolls from durable materials, using cutting-edge technologies to enhance the life-like nature of their dolls, while offering them at price points that made them affordable to the masses.
The story began in 1889 when 20-year-old Morris Michtom immigrated to the USA from Lithuania. He married a young New Yorker named Rose Katz and together the couple ran a candy store in Brooklyn. In about 1903 the Michtoms began making stuffed animals in their home and selling them in their store. These animals included a toy bear which Michtom called a Teddy Bear in an effort to tie-into the popular press story regarding Theodore Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a baby bear. Their animals began selling so well that Morris approached the toy wholesale giant Butler Brothers for a loan and proceeded to open a full-time toy making business. On January 1, 1907 Michtom and a partner named Aaron Cone officially opened the Ideal Novelty Company. In 1912 this partnership ended and Michtom reorganized the business under the name the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company. The company would remain a predominantly family run business through most of the 20th century until it was eventually broken up and sold, the doll division closed in 1986.
In the very early 1910s Ideal began making dolls of a composition material. In later interviews Morris related that he had witnessed the distress of his own young daughter when her bisque headed doll was broken and he resolved to come up with a doll that would be unbreakable. This was a goal that many other companies had tried to achieve in the decades prior to this with dolls made of paper mache or early formulations of composition, as well as cloth dolls such as those made by Chase and Smith. But Michtom turned to the newly emerging field of American-made composition formulas which were being experimented with and came up with his own company sawdust and glue formula for use in making doll heads.
The advent of WWI had an unexpected benefit to Ideal as well as the other American companies which were moving into the area of composition doll making as the lack of German made dolls created a greater demand for this newer style of doll. But it was the creativity in design combined with clever marketing enabled Ideal’s dolls to continue to command a strong presence in the marketplace even after the war ended. They were a company that looked forward, always trying out new materials and manufacturing techniques. In addition to composition dolls they created dolls of cloth, celluloid, hard rubber, Latex, hard plastic and vinyl. Their pioneering work with plastics enabled them to support the war effort during the WWII era in America as they turned over more than 50% of their factory space to making essential war-related products.
Aside from the company’s interest in new products and technologies numerous patents were filed by Ideal employees or owners for design refinements for eye mechanisms and a variety of other improvements. Top independent doll designers such as Bernard Lipfert, Neil Estern, Vincent DeFillipo, and others were hired to make sculpts for Ideal, always responding to the changing needs and desires of the public.
Throughout the 1970s Ideal continued to promote new concepts as well as offering reimaginings of their earlier successes and dolls aiming at the newly emerging collector market. Today the dolls made by Ideal are eagerly sought by collectors who agree the company’s ideals were indeed wonderful.
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Linda Edward Cloth Dolls From Ancient To Modern. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1997
Judith Izen Collector’s Guide to Ideal Dolls. Paducah, Collector Books, 2005
Polly Judd Hard Plastic Dolls. Cumberland: Hobby House Press, 1985
Polly Judd Hard Plastic Dolls II. Cumberland: Hobby House Press, 1989
Polly Judd Cloth Dolls. Cumberland: Hobby House Press,1990
Ursula Mertz Collector’s Encyclopedia of Composition Dolls. Paducah: Collector Books, 1999Ursula Mertz Collector’s Encyclopedia of Composition Dolls Vol. II. Paducah: Collector Books, 2004