With Christmas just around the corner, children and parents all have one thing on their mind: toys. After reading the kids' letters, Santa might have to make a pit stop in Germany to fulfill some of their wishes.
Germany is well known for its state-of-the-art engineering, top manufacturing and high quality products, particularly in industries such as the automotive world. However, the country also plays an important role in another field: the toy industry.
The German toy maker Playmobil celebrates its 41st anniversary and boasts success as one of the world's largest toy companies with nearly 600 million euros ($655 million) in annual sales.
Playmobil: Making more with less leads to success
Playmobil's founder, Horst Brandstätter, was a businessman from Fürth, Germany who in 1952 at the age of 19 took over the family business, which originally started as a producer of ornamental casket fittings and locks. The company later expanded to sheet-metal piggy banks, telephones and cash registers, which they sold in Europe and abroad.
Brandstätter was eager to join new markets so he decided to use plastic as the company's primary material, changing the production facilities and ultimately the company's products. In 1958, Brandstätter introduced the hula hoop to Europe.
In the early 1970s, the oil crisis and the increasing cost of plastic forced Brandstätter and his company to develop a new toy that would use less plastic. Hans Beck, a company's designer, presented the 7.5-centimeter (just under 3-inch) figurines. They would become known as the Playmobil figures as of 1974.
The Playmobil brand is popular all over the world. The toymaker also has theme parks in Europe and the US and has had licensing deals with companies such as BMW and Porsche.
Education as a game
Fischertechnik is another German brand with a strong presence in the toy market. The company's toys are used in education to teach about simple machines, as well as motorization and mechanisms. The company also offers computer interface technology, which can be used to learn the theory of automation and robotics.
The company first began as a fastener manufacturer, but in 1965, Artur Fischer invented a building block system for a toy set initially intended as a Christmas novelty gift for engineers. The construction toy's popularity took off and soon hit the shelves in toy stores across Germany and later the world. By about 1970, the construction sets were being sold in the United States at upscale toy retailers such as FAO Schwarz.
Fischertechnik's success even pushed Lego to introduce its own line of educational toys at the end of the 1970s. The new division "Lego Technic" included gears, axles, pins, and beams in addition to the simpler brick-building properties of traditional Lego sets.
The toy company from the Black forest celebrates its 50th anniversary this Christmas.