Question of the Week
Philadelphia toy manufacturer A. Schoenhut created a popular play set based on what classic nursery rhyme?
Answer: Humpty Dumpty
Albert Schoenhut (1848-1912) was a third generation toy maker from Germany who was brought to Philadelphia by a buyer from Wanamaker's Department Store who recognized his talents. While working for the store, Schoenhut made advancements in the way toy pianos were being produced by replacing the glass sounding bars in them with metal ones, which made them more durable and sound better. He moved on from Wanamaker in 1872 when he began producing toy pianos in a small store he opened on Frankford Avenue. Schoenhut later expanded his products to include more musical instruments, soldiers, dolls, wooden dollhouses, doll furniture, boats, and a toy set known as the "Humpty Dumpty Circus" that became one of his most popular products.
At first, the circus included a small number of items, a clown, elephant, white horse, and a few others. Schoenhut added circus performers, such as a ringmaster, acrobats, and a lion tamer, and many animals to the circus set to encourage additional sales. The "Humpty Dumpty Circus" was a success locally, nationally, and even internationally as it was one of few early American toys to be exported in quantity. In the early 1900s, Schoenhut and six sons who joined the business had an office and warehouse at 2215-2217 Adams (now Hagert) Street, and a five-story factory at the corner of Adams and Sepviva Streets. The factory was once believed to be the largest toy factory in the world.
Schoenhut’s toys were very popular, but they were a luxury in the Great Depression. The company declared bankruptcy in 1935. The property, machinery, and stock of toys were sold at auction in February, 1936, and the buildings were eventually razed.
HSP holds a few Schoenhut items, including an advertisement for the A. Schoenhut Company in the Campbell Collection (#V71), and commemorative brochure entitled Forty Years of Toy Making, 1872-1912. We also have the Philadelphia Record, 1910-1948 (microfilm), as well as the paper’s photograph collection (#V07) that contains images related to Schoenhut and his work.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.