A German inventor and cabinetmaker approached a famous toy manufacturer to pitch an idea for making model airplanes. This was in 1971, and the inventor was Hans Beck. Although the popular toy manufacturer, Horst Brandstatter, declined the toy plane idea, he did hire Beck to create some toys for children instead.
The result? The global phenomenon known as Playmobil.
Beck took his first project with the firm very seriously and spent three full years developing the small toy figures that would comprise the first sets of Playmobil figures released in 1974. It is a fascinating tale because there are so many things involved in the process. For example, Beck wanted to create a toy that did not impede creativity but which also came with a bit of a story already in place.
This was a challenge, but once he hit on the basics - a figure that fit in a child's small hand, design characteristics that were as simplistic as many children's drawings, and story lines that were popular with kids (Native Americans, knights in armor, and construction workers) - the toys were a success.
It took the 1973 oil crisis, however, to convince Brandstatter to invest in the toys. This was due to the fact that the larger toys, which demanded more plastic (a petroleum based product), were becoming nearly impossible to produce. Thus, the appeal of small figures that could be sold as sets.
During the 1974 International Toy Fair held in Nuremberg, the toys were displayed and were immediately snatched up by one firm that wanted the entire year's worth of production. This success lead to an almost instant global success, and within one year's time the Playmobil line was popular with kids around the planet.
It has remained a childhood classic ever since, but has gone through a lot of changes and updates in the course of the past decades. Though often seen as being in direct competition with the popular Lego toys, Playmobil has since taken on an entirely different look and life of its own.
In this age of movie tie-ins and pre-imagined story lines, the basic design of Playmobil sets are surprising. There are no named characters or settings. There are simple and classic themes that children can delve into through their imaginations and create characters of their own.
The flexibility and appeal of the sets are so universal and timeless that many adults actively collect or interact with the toys as well.
Playmobil and the "play worlds" associated with it are such a success that the firm has been able to create FunParks in many parts of the world. Today it is possible to visit:
Palm Beach, Florida
These are theme parks that are designed specifically around Playmobil toys, sets, and story lines.
Playmobil itself is part of the Brandstatter Group and located in Germany. However, many companies have been allowed to produce and distribute Playmobil sets through licensing agreements. These include groups in Europe and Latin America, the UK, and the United States.
However, their production process is split into non-export and export markets. It is the non-export markets that get new sets for two years, and then shipment begins to the export markets. This allows the firm to use a cost- efficient production process and to keep up with demand as any set or product is phased out.
The firm prints catalogs to be available wherever sets are distributed, and these vary from place to place or year to year. However, there are also online outlets in the UK and the US, and here too the sets available vary depending upon the status of any set's distribution.
For example, the current array of sets or play worlds available through the US online store includes:
Hotel Summer Fun
Top Agents 2
The other online outlets may have entirely different sets based purely on where they are located and what stage of production their sets happen to be in the cycle.
With a history of quality, creativity, and appeal, the Playmobil toys are perfect for kids of all ages.
Playmobil.us. All Play Worlds. Playmobil.us. 2014.