Fisher Price

Spotlight Artifact: Huffy Puffy 999


The Fisher-Price Company was founded in 1930 when Herm Fisher began working with Irving Price and Helen Schelle to create toys that “appeal to the imagination, that do something new and surprising and funny.” With their headquarters in East Aurora, NY, Fisher-Price sent their first shipment of toys to Macy’s in New York City in 1931. Fisher-Price was acquired by the Quaker Oats company in 1969 and ultimately purchased by Mattel in 1993. It is now the largest preschool products company in the world and is known for the high quality and durability of its products.

In 1999, the Museum received a large donation of Fisher-Price toys from Mary Brandwein. She established the collection because she found the architecture of the buildings pleasing and Mary collected the pieces with the intention of forming a village with an airport, school, zoo, main street, service station, post office, and so on. The pull toy featured here, from Mrs. Brandwein’s collection, is a wooden train from 1963, labelled “Huffy Puffy 999”. The train has a red plastic face, red wood wheels, a white antennae attached by a spring, and an engine and caboose. The two parts are connected with a metal and plastic hooking system that can uncouple to add more cars to the train.

Rebecca Justinger

*This article was featured in the Spring 2016 issue of “The Album.”

Summer Intern Diaries

When I came to The Buffalo History Museum for an internship with the Collections department in the Resource Center, one of my primary tasks consisted of cataloguing a collection of Fisher-Price toys from the 1960s through the 1990s.

The collection is a treasure trove of Fisher-Price at its best: Little People and lap desks, chime balls and a cash register, telescopes and a Toot-Toot steam engine. ???????????????????????????????There’s a rainbow grand piano, a saxophone, and a xylo-drum. The oldest toy is a 1963 “Huffy Puffy Steam Engine” with a cheerful face on the engine and a caboose; the newest toy is the brightly colored saxophone, which chirps peppy notes and dispenses soap bubbles from its bell when played.

Aside from getting to revel in the nostalgia that accompanied cataloguing toys from my childhood, I was also lucky enough to interview one of Fisher-Price’s retired toy engineers. Fred Robjent worked as a Product Development Engineer from 1978 to 2005. After receiving his Associate’s degree in mechanical engineering and his Bachelor’s degree in agricultural mechanization, Mr. Robjent worked at a few smaller companies before joining the Fisher-Price team. Once hired, he went through a rigorous training program. He went on to work as an engineer for the company through its periods of massive growth, its time under Quaker Oats, and finally its purchase by Mattel.

Mr. Robjent helps Walter Mayer, our Director of Collections, with the upkeep and repair of an apostolic clock in the collection. When he heard we were doing a project on Fisher-Price artifacts, he brought a number of his own personal artifacts, vintage catalogs, and limited employee edition books to the Resource Center for me to use in my research. He was happy to shed light on the design process and share his knowledge of the specific artifacts in our collection.

Fisher Price Roller SkatesMr. Robjent personally worked on the iconic Fisher-Price roller skates. He designed and patented a mechanism that made the toy skates safer for preschoolers. If you had a pair of the skates in the early ‘90s, like I did, you might remember the yellow switch on the bottom of the skate that allowed parents to choose from three settings. One stopped the wheels from moving at all, one stopped the skates from rolling backwards, and one allowed uninhibited skating. While Mr. Robjent has eight patents in his name, this was the one that seemed to make him most proud.

Fred Robjent spoke often of the company’s desire to make the toys as safe as possible. Fisher-Price set numerous safety standards in the toy industry that remain in place today. However, when asked what he loved most about working for Fisher-Price, Mr. Robjent said that it was the company’s family atmosphere he loved most.

Samantha Vandermeade
Summer Intern, Collections Department