This German company pivoted from making casket accessories to producing plastic playthings and become one of the country’s most successful toy companies along the way.
Hans Beck, a trained cabinetmaker and amateur toy inventor, was hired by Germany’s Geobra Brandstätter company to produce a line of toys for young children.
Beck developed his idea between 1971 and 1974, focusing on a toy that would inspire a child’s natural curiosity and imagination.
In 1972, Geobra Brandstätter filed a patent for what is now the company’s signature 7.5-cm plastic figure and named the new toy line Playmobil.
The first Playmobil figures – construction workers, Native Americans, and knights – were released in 1974.
In 1976, the Playmobil toy line expanded to include female figures and smaller-sized figures representing children and babies.
Animals, vehicles, buildings, and other accessories were added throughout the following years.
Changes in moulding technology allowed for new features and the figures gained rotating hands in 1982.
Geobra Brandstätter licensed its products in Latin America, Europe, and North America.
Louis Marx and Company licensed the Playmobile line and sold it under the name Playpeople in the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1980.
Playmobil was licensed in the United States by Mattel and Schaper.
The McDonald’s Deal
In 1982, Schaper arranged the marketing deal to distribute Playmobil toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals. Five Playmobil figures were planned for distribution: a sheriff, a sheriff’s horse, a Native American, a girl with an umbrella, and a farmer.
Millions of the sheriff and Native American toys were handed out through McDonald’s before the fast-food chain halted distribution due to safety concerns. The remaining three figures were never released by McDonald’s.
Fun for Everyone
In 2000, the Playmobil brand expanded into FunParks, with the first adventure theme park opening adjacent to the company’s headquarters in Zirndorf, Germany.
FunParks are also located in France, Malta, and Greece.
The Playmobil brand is licensed for video game, film, and television productions, including the 2019 theatrical release, Playmobil: The Movie.
As of 2018, more than three billion Playmobil figures had been sold worldwide.