5.14.2009

RIP: Hans Beck (the 'father' of Playmobil)

Hans Beck

News sometimes gets to us very slow. But in case you missed it a few months ago somebody instrumental in the children's toy world passed away. Hans Beck, the inventor (or 'The father of Playmobil' as he is called) of Playmobil, died at the age of 79 in his native Germany at the end of January.

Once our children reached a slightly older age - or the age where they acquired the reasoning to cease from putting anything small in their little mouths - Playmobil became instrumental in their playroom imaginations. I'm sure most households now have at least one item of Playmobil.

So, it isn't surprising that it took a few years for Mr Beck to develop the idea of Playmobil (I just love that name) - but it is surprising that he was originally trained as a cabinetmaker. His first venture into producing toys came when he approached a company called Geobra Brandstatter to make his model airplanes. Instead, he was asked to develop toy figures. Not initially recognised as viable by the owner of the company, Beck continued development. Apparently, it was the oil crisis of 1973 that prompted a closer look at manufacturing these little plastic environments. It is interesting to note that Geobra Brandstatter had been producing HoolaHoops and Large Plastic Dolls.The first series was basic, only including Native Americans ('Indians'), Knights, and Construction Worker sets, and was a bit slow to gain any traction. You can imagine why perhaps, since most children were accustomed to either tin figurines or rigid plastic ones or larger dolls at that time. Playmobil figurines were designed to be fairly adaptable and changeable, incorporating all sorts of appendages and objects. Today, many enthusiasts have taken to cusomizing their own version of the figurines - which doesn't always result in the best of taste.

Playmobil Set Circa 1974

But, it didn't take long for the idea to start 'snow-balling' and now today, some 4 decades later, you have a wide variety of scenarios and figures to choose from. There's almost a whole world of scenarios - Our household favorites are the castles and the airport/airplane. Funnily enough, Beck for some reason stated that Jumbo Jets, Space Aliens, and Dinosaurs should never be made. Of course, that isn't the case now. Another thing that has changed, you might have noticed, is that in the beginning it seems the boxes did not have the standard blue/white design they now have. The detailing seems also to have been more intent and the color coding relevant to each series: Knights=Green Packaging, Native Americans ('Indians')=Red, and the Construction Workers=Blue ..... hmmm, I wonder why?

Playmobil Figurines Circa 1974

My only real complaint with Playmobil is that the many pieces, though fun to construct in the beginning with your son or daughter, gradually start to disappear. Our Airport Scenario has altered so many times to compensate for this fact that the Airport Terminal now resembles something out of a disaster zone with signage hanging off unintended 'walls' and a baggage claim area bereft of baggage, and a roofing system patched together of whatever odds and ends will attach! It's quite a sight. Nonetheless, the kids still love dragging it out and playing with it, much as Mr Beck suggested they would when he stated "... they invented little scenarios for them. They never grew tired of playing with them." And, for that, we should thank Hans Beck for being one of the first to start revolutionizing children's figurines and subsequently expanding in all directions the potential for imaginative play!

2 comments:

hOMnaturale said...

Thanks for sharing the Hans Beck news with all the background info. Very interesting. Funny bout the "no dinosaurs"?? The Dino sets are Shane's favorite to play with. He really likes all the Adventure series playmobil.

Katherine said...

thank you for posting this! my five year old son LOVES playmobil, and just today i saw GEOBRA stamped on the foot of one of the men and wondered what it meant.