A Brief History of Plush Toys or Plushies

The stuffed toy, plush, or plushie has a long and storied history. Stuffed toys are a product of technological advancements in the late 19th century. In 1880 a German upholstery company used updated technology to create the world's first stuffed toy- an elephant. Stuffed toys reached their stride in the early 20th century with the development of the original, fabled teddy bear, first released to the public in 1903. The teddy bear was a roaring success, becoming the quintessential stuffed toy for children for well over a century.

In the ensuing years, stuffed toys took off in popularity. Today, stuffed toys can be found in almost any size or shape combination. These toys can be as small as a companion on your desk, to as large as person (or larger), and can be found in shapes as diverse as all forms of animals, plants, and foods. Some of modern day's most popular stuffed toys derive from pop culture and include stuffed toys in the shapes of characters from video games, movies, and tv shows.

Today, the terms plush, plushie, and stuffed toy are all interchangeable, and refer to a doll or figure enchased in a soft material and filled with a soft substance such as cotton. Stuffed animals are a subset of stuffed toys that are made to look like an animal, but not all stuffed toys are animals.

Plush toys have innovated over time, bringing new levels of enjoyment to children around the world. Beginning in 1959 Mattel released the first talking, drawstring doll- the Chatty Cathy. While not a plush toy, the Chatty Cathy marked an important step in toy evolution, leading the way for the mid-1980s release of Teddy Ruxpin. Teddy Ruxpin, a plush teddy bear with a built-in cassette tape deck, was the first plush toy with the ability to talk back. Wildly popular, Teddy Ruxpin laid the groundwork for today’s technological plush toys, including the Tickle-Me-Elmo, furbies, and plush toys which light up, sing, or dance.

In addition to technology, plush toys have also innovated in design. Beanie babies, originally released in 1986, were unique in their use of beads for stuffing rather than cotton, and by being under-filled, giving them a floppy look. From their release in 1986 until the early 2000s, beanie babies became incredibly popular; originally marketed for between $5-10, beanie babies have been resold for thousands of dollars. Beanie babies haven’t been the only design innovation with plush toys, however. In 2017, Squishmallows were released to wide acclaim and popularity. Taking the shape of real and fictional foods and animals, squishmallows are very soft and squishy- a big change from the beaded beanie babies or rigid teddy bears of yesteryear.

In conjunction with the change in the technology and design of plush toys, the look and feel of plush toys has evolved over time as new materials and methods of construction have been developed. One of these innovations is the development of PP, or polypropylene cotton. 100% synthetic (made entirely of polyester fibers), polypropylene cotton has numerous advantages over natural cotton, including that it does not absorb any moisture, it has a greater capacity for wear and tear than normal cotton, and it is cheaper to manufacture. In general, the addition of synthetic polyester fibers has made plush toys squishier and more versatile compared to the rigid plush toy of a century ago. Another important innovation for the look and feel of modern plush toys is the development of synthetic skins. Microsuede and coral fleece are both synthetic materials which alter the tactile experience with plush toys. Whereas microsuede is a very soft but very thin surface, coral fleece is a thick synthetic material commonly used in blankets.

Plush toys have dramatically changed since their origin in the late 1800s. Innovations in design, technology, and methods of construction have delighted children for well over a century and have kept plush toys among the most popular of children's toys despite the pervasiveness of screens in our modern world. Surely, plush toys will continue to innovate to bring new joy to children for the next century and beyond.


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