American Character was founded in 1919 by brothers Jacob and Max Brock, with their partner Ed Schaefer. The company was one of the leading doll manufacturers in America for the next several decades. Collectors value the company’s composition dolls, but their hard plastic and vinyl dolls of the 50s and 60s, such as Sweet Sue, Toni, Tiny Tears, Tressy and Betsy McCall, are American Character’s enduring legacy.
The company’s early dolls were either all-composition, or had a composition head and limbs on a cloth body. The earliest dolls are marked “Aceedeecee” on the back of the head. Beginning in 1923, they began using the trade name “Petite,” and many of their compo dolls are marked and tagged with that name. Their popular baby dolls included Bottletot, with one hand molded to hold a bottle, and the smiling Happytot.
In 1929, American Character acquired the rights to make the Campbell Kid dolls, and produced an adorable version for a few years. Puggy was another all compo character made in the late 1920s. He is 13″ tall and has plenty of personality. Puggy’s Girlfriend (pictured below) was made from the same molds as the Campbell Kids.
During the Depression years of the 1930s, American Character remained successful, with little girl dolls including Sally Joy and Carol Ann Beery, a celebrity doll representing the daughter of Hollywood actor Wallace Beery. Sally was very similar to Effanbee’s popular Patsy family dolls. She could be purchased with either molded hair or a mohair wig, and in an all-composition version as well as one with a cloth body.
American Character also made rubber dolls during the 1930s and ’40s. Most of these dolls have not survived because rubber degrades over time. Rival dollmaker Effanbee won a lawsuit against American Character in 1935 over the company’s introduction of a rubber drink-and-wet doll. Ed Schaefer left the company in 1939 to start his own firm making rubber dolls, and a second generation of Brock family members joined the team.
Despite the lawsuit and the challenges of production during World War II, the company continued to develop drink-and-wet babies, and in 1950 they debuted their most successful doll to date, Tiny Tears. Not only could this doll drink and wet, she could cry too! She was made with a hard plastic head and rubber body from 1950 to ’58; and with a hard plastic head and vinyl body from 1959 to ’61, in several sizes. The earlier dolls had molded hair or a caracul (baby lambskin) wig, later on she had synthetic hair rooted into a vinyl skullcap inset into the top of her head. Various vinyl versions of Tiny Tears were made in the 1960s.
Hard plastic Sweet Sue is another iconic doll made by American Character during the mid-twentieth century. She was produced in sizes ranging from 15 to 31 inches. Early dolls had mohair wigs but most dolls have synthetic hair. Some dolls have various American Character markings on the back of the head, but many are unmarked, which is a source of confusion and consternation for collectors. Vinyl head versions of Sweet Sue were made as well.
Sweet Sue Sophisticate was the grownup version of Sweet Sue. Made in 14, 20, and 25 inch sizes, she had a mature figure and feet shaped to wear high heeled shoes. American Character’s version of Toni is nearly identical to Sweet Sue Sophisticate. She was made in four sizes from 10 to 25 inches. The 10 inch version had many extra outfits which could be purchased separately. Toni was a tie-in to Gillette’s Toni Home Permanent and came with a Playwave kit to style her hair.
Betsy McCall started life as a paper doll in McCall’s Magazine. She became three dimensional with Ideal’s vinyl version in 1952. In 1957, American Character began producing Betsy in an 8 inch hard plastic version. She was hugely popular and had many extra outfits available. Following the success of the 8 inch Betsy McCall, American Character produced a 14 inch size with a vinyl head in 1958. This version was only available for two years. There was also a 20 inch Betsy with flirty eyes; 22 and 29 inch dolls with a different face sculpt; and a 34 inch companion-size Betsy. None of these larger dolls had extra outfits like the original tiny Betsy.
Toodles was a name that American Character used over and over for baby dolls. There was a rubber version in the ’30s and a hard plastic version in the ’40s; but the all vinyl Toodles, made in several different versions in the 1950s and ’60s, is the one most well known today. She was a drink and wet baby, but lacked the crying feature of Tiny Tears. Later on there were infant, toddler and little girl versions of Toodles.
The company continued to innovate and experiment in the 1960s. Whimsies were all vinyl novelty dolls that were aimed at older kids and teenagers. They were produced in 1960 and ’61. A total of 17 different styles were made, including Annie the Astronut, Freddy the Friar, Trixie the Pixie and Wheeler the Dealer. Another doll, Hedda Get Bedda, is similar to the Whimsies, except that her head rotates with three different faces: a sick face, a sleeping face, and happy “all bedda” face.
During this period American Character also produced Little Miss Echo, a 30-inch talking doll who worked by means of a tape recorder in her chest. Sally Says, Babie Says and Babie Babbles were other talking dolls made by the company.
Tressy, introduced in 1963, was American Character’s answer to Mattel’s Barbie. Tressy had a unique feature – “growing” hair that could be made longer or shorter by means of a T-shaped key inserted into her back. Like Barbie, Tressy had extra oufits and a little sister. Tressy’s friend Mary Makeup had very pale coloring that could be enhanced with colored pencils. Tressy was very popular and is commonly found today, although her extra outfits and playsets are harder to find.
In 1965, American Character introduced their line of Blue Ribbon dolls, which were not advertised on television, so could be offered at a lower price point. Pouting Penny and Butterballs were part of this line.
They also experimented with unusual types of dolls during this decade. Popi was a Barbie-sized doll with a “pop-apart” torso to make her easier to dress. Her molded vinyl wigs enabled her look to be changed quickly. A vinyl figure of Topo Gigio, a character mouse from the Ed Sullivan Show, was also introduced. A line of action figures from the tv show Bonanza were the last items produced by American Character.
The company name was changed to American Doll and Toy Corp. in 1960, although they continued to use the American Character trademark; they also did business under the name American Miniature Doll Corp. during this same era. By 1968, they were no longer in business. Some of the company’s molds and trademarks were sold to Mattel and Ideal.
For more information, read Judith Izen’s excellent book. Click the image below to view it on Amazon.