If I were asked what my favourite brand label is from my vast collection of vinyl children’s records, I would not hesitate to answer, “Peter Pan Records.” And if I were asked why I cite that as my favourite, I would say because of everything from the artwork on the covers to the performers on the recordings.
But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Peter Pan Records is — aside from the Sesame Street and Disney labels — that it’s still here and that it carries a rich legacy for listeners of all ages.
Let’s go back to the very beginning, the late 1920s. Synthetic Plastics Company (SPC) was a New Jersey business founded by brothers Daniel and Louis Kasen. The plastic manufacturing operation at first produced buttons and novelties for the garment industry. By the following decade, the company had expanded its repertoire to plastic-related game pieces such as poker chips, bingo markers, and dice for the game and toy industries.
It wasn’t until after World War II that the Kasen brothers discover they could adapt SPC’s technology to manufacture phonograph records, thus founding Peter Pan Records. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, they manufactured children’s 10-inch shellac phonograph records. In March 1948, Peter Pan Records went to retail and distribution, releasing its seven-inch, 78 RPM series featuring a collection of traditional children’s songs and nursery rhymes (the first included All Around the Mulberry Bush, Did You Ever See a Lassie?, and Bye Baby Bunting).
The Soundtrack to Childhood
In the 1950s and ’60s, with more offerings for children’s music, the Kasens developed many labels (different brand names) for various genres: Rocking Horse, Humpty Dumpty, Pirouette, Caroleer, Compose, Logo, Guest Star, Big, Promenade, Prom, Parade, Curio, Tifton, Ambassador, Scripture, Swampfire, Mountain Dew, and Diplomat. With the Baby Boomer generation, Peter Pan Records became one of the largest manufacturers of children’s records in the United States. Its growing music catalog included the popular LP monster series by the euphonious Frankie Stein and his Ghouls, a collection of dance music accentuated with horror sounds, and children’s books with 7-inch records.
Following the death of Louis Kasen, his son Martin succeeded as the company’s president and changed the company name from SPC to Ambassador Record Corporation in 1971. Around this time, Donald Kasen (son of Daniel) also joined the firm. By then, Peter Pan Records had expanded its catalog with read-alongs, book-and-record sets, and two new labels. The first was Tinkerbell Records, featuring collections of musical fairy tale stories and popular songs. The second — and still a favourite of many to this day — was the revived Power Records from the mid-1960s. This label specialized in newly recorded adventures (some in comic book form) of superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man, as well as contemporary sci-fi titles such as Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and The Six Million Dollar Man.
Then in 1975, the company added its music publishing arm with Danmar International, Kasen Music, Tifton Music, and Compose Music. In 1977 the company changed its name to Peter Pan Industries. The label created a character called Irwin the Disco Duck (introduced in 1976 with Disco Duck Dance Party), a disc jockey that “played” cover versions of the then-popular disco hits. Depending on the album title, he was sometimes known as Irwin the Dynamic Duck. At one point, the legendary voice actor Don Messick (the original voice of Scooby-Doo and second voice to his nephew, Scrappy-Doo) spoke as the character. Think Scrappy-Doo as a DJ!
By the time the 1980s came around, the children’s record market was in a steep decline. Donald Kasen pushed the company into the home-video market under the brands Parade, Power, and Peter Pan VHS tapes while keeping the children’s materials alive by moving into audio cassettes.
In 1989 Donald Kasen bought out his cousin and partner, Martin, and became the CEO of the company. During the 1990s, Kasen Dinnerware was introduced for adults, using the same manufacturing equipment once utilized for making vinyl records! A couple of years later, Donald added children’s dinnerware under the Peter Pan brand, which became an instant success by acquiring licenses including Sesame Street and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At about the same time, the company introduced the Trollies under the Peter Pan audio and video labels and did a 40-city live tour promoting the popular, troll-like characters. The Trollies received two Emmy awards for its immense production. Later, the company changed its name again to PPI Entertainment and created new labels and imprints, expanding its strength in the hugely popular health and fitness video markets.
The 1990s and early 2000s saw the inclusion of labels Current, eMpower, Jamaican Authentic, Rohit International, and the return of Compose, for the dance, meditation, and reggae markets.
In 2006, its 75th anniversary, PPI officially became Inspired Studios, Inc. After a time, the company relocated from its long-time home in Newark, New Jersey, to Boynton Beach, Florida.
Into The Future
That is far from the end of Peter Pan Records! Donald Kasen and his associates are at work today digitizing the entire catalog of recordings from the 1940s onwards and creating current titles for all ages, mainly in compact discs and streaming formats, while adding many audiobooks to the catalog. Recently, a few popular albums have been reissued, including A Story of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman, and the Frankie Stein titles, the latter of which contained new productions. Additionally, many new video releases are being introduced under the Peter Pan and Power Pictures brands, and a new workout label, iSweat Music. In 2017, Peter Pan released a collection of holiday tunes from the vaults, in compact disc and streaming forms, under the label (what else?) Holiday Records.
Peter Pan and Peter Pan Press are still very active in releasing new children’s books and recordings, including audiobooks in digital and print versions, such as Puss in Boots, The Legend of Mulan, Baby Shark, Winnie The Pooh, Opposites, two children’s bible series, and various activity books. In 2023, there will be the first release of a novel on the Peter Pan Press label entitled Becoming Peter Pan.
Official Inspired Studios licensee, Studio Chikara, later this year plans to re-release several classic story albums and Power Records titles, both in compact disc and limited-edition vinyl formats.
Last I heard, Peter Pan Records are still being enjoyed by readers and listeners across the country, if not around the globe. See for yourself on the Peter Pan website.