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.
Beatrice Alexander Behrman, or “Madame Alexander,” as she became known, grew up in the doll business. As the daughter of Maurice Alexander, a Russian immigrant who opened the first doll hospital in this country in 1895, she learned to appreciate the beauty of dolls from her early years. Her father’s teachings stayed with her into adulthood, and seeking a professional and artistic challenge, she founded the Alexander Doll Co., Inc., in the 1920’s. She went on to become the leading lady of the doll industry as she guided a company famous for the beauty and high quality of its dolls and their clothing.
Early Alexander dolls were cloth and composition. They had big hits in the 1930’s with their licensed Dionne Quintuplets and Sonja Henie composition dolls. During this period they also introduced characters from literature, including the Little Women series and McGuffey Ana. In the late ’40s, they turned to hard plastic and their Margaret and Maggie face dolls were the epitome of the well-dressed little girl.
From the very beginning, Madame Alexander focused on producing the highest quality, most beautiful doll clothing in the world. The same molds were used over and over again, with the costume and hairstyling creating the character of the doll.
The 8 inch Alexander-kins were introduced in 1953, and became the Alexander Doll Company’s most enduring product. Many were sold under the name Wendy or Wendy Ann. A year later a walking mechanism was introduced. From 1956 to 1965, the dolls were produced with jointed knees.
Alexander initiated the modern era of the fashion doll with the introduction of Cissy in 1955. In the company’s catalog for that year, Madame describes her as “A Child’s Dream Come True.” Elise, a doll with jointed ankles to enable her to wear low or high heels, was introduced in 1957, and in 1959, 10 inch Cissette joined her “big sisters” as Alexander’s newest fashionable lady. All of these dolls had extensive lines of extra clothing and accessories which could be purchased.
In addition to the high-heeled dolls, Alexander produced some of their most enduring child dolls in the 1950s. Babies Kathy and Little Genius were produced in several sizes, and little girl Kelly was dressed in beautiful, classic styles. The Little Women dolls that had always been big sellers for Alexander got an update with the introduction of pre-teen Lissy.
In the 1960s, Alexander introduced a number of new dolls with unique head molds, including Brenda Starr, a slim teen fashion doll to compete with Mattel’s Barbie, and Coco, a new 20 inch high fashion doll. While these dolls had a fairly short production run, the company also introduced some new faces which would become classics in their line. The 21 inch Jacqueline doll was one of these. Initially a representation of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the mold was later used for the Portrait Series of lady dolls which were produced for decades. 14 inch Mary Ann and 12 inch Janie, both little girl dolls, became mainstays of the company’s line as well.
Also in the 1960s, the International Series using the 8” Alexander-kin molds were introduced. They became Alexander’s most popular line, and are still being produced today.
The 1970s and ’80s saw Alexander staying the course, with few innovations, producing the beloved babies and children, characters from classic literature, and ladies in Portrait gowns that had always done well for them.
Beatrice Alexander sold the company in 1988, and passed away two years later.
In the 1990s, the company went through a challenging period. They were the last of the major doll manufacturers still located in the United States, and had difficulty competing for collectors’ dollars. In 1995 the company was sold to an international banking group and production began to be moved overseas.
In the 1990s and 2000s, many of Alexander’s classic dolls were reintroduced, some as reproductions of the original styles, and others with a new modern look.
Beatrice Alexander was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2000.
The company has changed hands a few more times in recent years, and is currently owned by Kahn Lucas, a girls’ clothing manufacturer.
Today the Madame Alexander Doll Company specializes in baby dolls for children, including Huggums and Pussy Cat, first introduced in the 1960s, and a line of Lee Middleton babies; and collectible 8 inch and 10 inch dolls using the Alexander-kin and Cissette molds.
Admiration Doll Company produced this inexpensive 8″ toddler doll in the 1950s, capitalizing on the popularity of Vogue’s Ginny doll. Carol-Sue is all hard plastic with sleep eyes, a mohair or synthetic mohair wig and bare feet painted to look like shoes. She is jointed at the neck, shoulders and hips, and is unmarked. Some dolls have painted lashes below each eye. Carol Sue’s simple clothing is stapled directly to her.
In 1950, the Terri Lee Doll Company added a new member to their lineup of dolls. This was Terri’s baby sister, Linda Lee, a 10″ all vinyl baby with a slimmer, more realistic infant body, and an adorable face.
Linda had her own outfits and accessories, including this suitcase-style trunk. The trunk is made of wood, covered with paper, and has a plastic handle and metal hardware. It measures 11.25″ wide, about 8.25″ high and 4.25″ deep. It has a flocked design of an elephant hauling a cart with a duck in it. Linda Lee’s name is in the lower right corner, with the two Ls designed like pairs of diaper pins. Another version of the trunk had gray flocking instead of the dark blue on this one.
Very soon after she was released, Linda Lee’s name was changed to Linda Baby, and the trunks that had already been produced had a daisy glued over the “Lee.” These trunks are very hard to find now.
Sold on eBay for $49 plus shipping in January 2020.
Recently I got lot of vintage Kellogg’s premium dolls on Craigslist. A premium doll is a type of advertising doll that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the product, but is offered to tempt you to buy the product so you can get the premium.
The Grown Up Doll was offered by Kellogg’s in 1958, advertised on the cereal boxes. For $2, plus 2 box tops from Rice Krispies or Raisin Bran, you got this 10 1/2″ doll with four outfits. She has a vinyl head with rooted hair and sleep eyes, and a hard plastic body with a walking mechanism.
She has high heel feet and is the same size as Little Miss Revlon, Jill and other glamour dolls of the same time period, but she doesn’t have the well developed bust line that most of those dolls do.
The Grown Up Doll came in the formal gown of flocked nylon over taffeta (shown at top) with a halter top that ties with pink ribbon, and a bouquet of flowers and ribbon at the waistline. The matching hat is just a football shaped piece, with braid trim around the edge, and an elastic chin strap.
She has three extra outfits that came with her. This taffeta afternoon dress with big hearts printed on it has matching panties. A pink cotton knit sweater has a black, white and red flannel skirt, matching beret, and white taffeta panty. This white taffeta top with black velvet bow goes with a pair of red and black striped corduroy pants. The black and silver braid is sewn to the waistline, but not in a way that would wrap around her waist, so I’m not quite sure if it’s just supposed to be tied in a bow or what.
For an extra $1 and another box top, you could get four more outfits – really a bargain! The party dress of floral nylon in candy pink. It has a pink taffeta panty. This blue pajama set is made of taffeta. It came with a cotton waffle embossed robe.
The Beach Togs outfit includes a red and white knit swimsuit (which won’t stay up, should have had a strap around her neck or something) and a white terrycloth jacket. A cute sundress is embossed to resemble seersucker. It has a matching panty too.
The lot came with three pairs of high heeled shoes – two pairs of white heels that can go with the evening gown or the afternoon dress, and a pair of red ones to go with the flannel skirt ensemble or the pants outfit. Also a pair of nylon stockings. I’m not sure if these came with the doll and original outfits, or with the extra outfit set.