The notion that bobblehead dolls would ever become such a large part of the American culture probably seemed unlikely to most folks at first. But that’s just what these iconic toys have achieved over the past few decades: fame and notoriety. In many ways, the bobblehead itself is as famous as the real person each individual doll is manufactured to represent.
The rise in bobblehead popularity occurred mostly in ballparks and sports stadiums. Even today, many venues host “bobblehead nights” that bring fans out in droves. Indeed, these promotional events routinely top the list of theme nights at the ballpark. And what American kid hasn’t at one time or another had a bobble figurine of their favorite sports star sitting by their bedside. Many adults still place them front and center on the dashboards of their cars.
But bobblehead dolls aren’t just limited to the sports realm. The actual history of the toy goes back over a hundred years and has its roots all over the world. That makes this American cultural item, in reality, a global phenomenon. So in the interests of shedding some light on the origins of this large-headed statuette, here is a brief history of the bobblehead.
Bobble toys are thought to date back over 150 years. And while it may be difficult to pin down the exact origin of these dolls, there is a record of sorts of their inception. The earliest mention of bobble figures seems to be in the short story “The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol. A character in the story describes another’s neck like “the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads.” This of course was in reference to the animal figurines with moveable heads that were first being manufactured in Germany and starting to be seen throughout the world. Even China is said to have manufactured these figurines during these early days.
The figurines themselves were of simple design and easy to mass-produce. They had spring-attached heads that “bobbed” when moved, hence the nickname. But despite being inexpensive and readily available, they had yet to catch on the way they do today.
Popularity in Sports
It wasn’t until 1920 when a bobblehead doll was produced based on a New York Knicks player that the toy began to be seen in the sports world. However, it wasn’t until 1960 when Major League Baseball released a whole line of bobbles based on entire teams that manufacturers realized the true potential of these sports toys. Dolls based on individual players, such as Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were produced and sold like hotcakes at the World Series that year.
Alas, these original dolls were manufactured out of papier-mache, and therefore most haven’t survived over the years.
A Bobblehead Crossover
Quality improved in the 1970s when they began making the dolls out of ceramics. This is also the time when they began to manufacture dolls based on celebrities. In fact, the bobblehead edition of the Beatles became the biggest seller of all time, and it’s still a rare collectible item today. Since then, decreased manufacturing costs have further increased the availability of bobblehead dolls, which is why they are seen in nearly every toy store, sports venue and tourist shop in the world.
Regardless of where the bobbleheads came from and how they arrived on the scene, one thing is certain: their cultural relevance will only continue to grow. Whether it’s celebrities or sports stars, there’s something about a caricature in three dimensions, complete with oversized bobbling head, that will always have a place in people’s hearts.
Custom Bobbleheads offers one-of-a-kind bobbleheads that can be fully customized from head to toe on their website, CustomBobbleheads.com. Meredith Hunter writes independently on creative decor and gift ideas.