As a passionate collector of boys dolls I have done a significant amount of research over the last 20 years into the history of how these cool little dudes came to be. I tried to cast a wide net while collecting this information to get as complete a picture of the industry as I could, however as there are so many companies all over the world that have produced dolls for boys, the list below is a good overview but is certainly not complete.
Enjoy! -Mikey :)
21st Century BC - 1800's From as far back as the 21st century BC, dolls have been a part of human culture, and have been made from a variety of materials such as wood, clay or straw. In ancient Greece they have been documented as being a plaything for girls as far back as 200 BC. More recently during the 1800's, manufactured dolls were produced with heads that were made out of porcelain. These dolls can be easily broken and chipped if dropped or mishandled, which is one of the reasons porcelain dolls from this era that have survived intact are so valuable and collectable. Here is the Wikipedia page about the history of dolls.
A Teddy Bear, circa 1985
1902 In North America, the Teddy Bear was created by Morris Michtom, founder of the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, with his wife Rose. They were inspired by a newspaper political cartoon depicting the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, during a hunting expedition in which he refused to kill a bear. Michtom named his toy bear "Teddy's Bear" after the president, and the Teddy Bear was born. Coincidentally about the same time in Germany, the Steiff company also developed a plush toy based on a bear. As such the creation of the Teddy Bear was meant to happen one way or the other in the early 1900's! From the start, the Teddy Bear was considered to be suitable for either boys or girls, and marketed simply as a toy "for children".
1930's to 1960's Various companies including Louis Marx produced a wide assortment of tin toys such as vehicles, spaceships and robots. They began offering wind-up "walking" tin figures based on licensed cartoon characters such as Popeye, Porky Pig and Donald Duck. Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp and Edgar Bergan's puppet character Charlie McCarthy were also very popular tin toy figures from this era. Many tin walking figures, such as Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, were made with fabric clothes. Mechanical doll-like tin toys became a standard type of toy during this era. Their popularity continued through to the 1960's.
As an alternative to tin, jointed toy figures were made with celluloid, which looks like plastic but is much more fragile. The figures were made with or without mechanical actions. Generic characters, such as clowns and animals, were also made as mechanical figures with fabric or short plush fur over top of the tin body. Around the mid to late 1950's plastic began to be used more commonly in the manufacturing of toys. At this point some tin figures were made with a rubber or plastic moulded head rather than tin. Tin toys from the 1960's included characters such as Pinocchio (shown above) Fred Flintstone, Tarzan and Batman. By the late 1960's plastic toys were commonplace and tin toys quickly fell out of vogue.
1955 - 1961 The German female doll Bild Lilli was introduced in 1955 in both 12 inch and 7.5 inch sizes. The doll was based on a comic strip character and "marketed to men as a joke or gag gift", yet the toy "eventually became popular with children too". The doll was sold as a children's toy in various European countries in addition to Germany. Various other German toy companies produced doll sized houses and accessories to profit from the doll's popularity. The doll's name was shortened to "Lilli" in the United States. This is the doll that inspired the creation of Mattel's Barbie doll in 1959. Mattel then purchased the copyright for the Bild Lilli doll in 1964 and production of that doll ended that same year allowing Mattel to dominate the fashion doll market. Barbie's boyfriend Ken was introduced in 1961 followed by his best friend Allan in 1964, and the African American Brad doll in 1968. By the mid 1970's Ken's original teenage, youthful looking design had been updated a few times, however the most significant change took place in 1977. Along with a new head sculpt, the doll was given a more adult and muscular appearance to shed his teenage, boyish look. The new design was introduced as the Ken Superstar doll. (Source: Wikipedia)
In addition to his numerous fashions, Ken has since been depicted as numerous characters from popular culture, such as Star Trek's Captain Kirk or the DC Comics hero Superman.
1964 Hasbro introduces G.I Joe 12 inch dolls, known as Action Man in Europe. This was a hugely successful series with many dolls, vehicles, playsets and accessories produced over the next decade and a half.
1965 Gilbert debuts their 12 inch James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E doll series. In 1967 the Gilbert toy company is purchased by Gabriel Industries.
1965 Louis Marx and Company debuts their Best of the West series of 12 inch action figures which have removable plastic costume pieces and accessories. Several dolls and accessories were available, as well as horses.
c1965 By the mid 1960's Mattel had an assortment of talking dolls and hand puppets that depicted popular characters such as Bugs Bunny, Bozo the Clown, Herman Muster, and Woody Woodpecker. These large size talking dolls had plastic heads and hands with plush bodies, introducing a style of talking doll that has continued to be a trend in the toy industry through to present day.
1966 Ideal produces Captain Action and several costume sets.
c1967 Mattel produces Captain Laser, a 12 inch action figure which they later reissue in 1978 as the Colonial Warrior for the Battlestar Galactica line of toys (shown above). The body of this figure was also used for the Battlestar Galactica 12 inch Cylon figure.
1967 Mattel produces toys based on the Doctor Doolittle movie starring Rex Harrison, including a 6 inch bendy doll with fabric clothes, and a 19 inch talking doll.
1971 Mego introduces their 12 inch male fashion doll series Broadway Joe Namath, based on a celebrity football player. This is quite possibly the first instance of a doll being based on an celebrity athlete. To my knowledge the 12 inch doll body used is unique to this doll, and was well made with detailed articulation. Mego also debuts their very crudely made Richie fashion doll line with a very different doll body. This was apparently intended to be Maddie Mod's boyfriend as part of Mego's fashion doll series for girls first introduced in 1968. The Richie doll body looks nothing like Joe Namath or Mego's popular 8 inch Mego dolls. Additionally, Mego produced the very crudely made 12 inch Fighting Yank army doll as a knock-off to Hasbro's G.I. Joe dolls. Once again, this doll body seems to be unique to this doll.
1971 Mego debuts their 8 inch Action Jackson doll which sells poorly forcing the company to rebrand the doll. They reuse parts from existing stock to create the World's Greatest Super Heroes doll series in 1972. The first four dolls are based on DC Comics characters Batman, Robin, Superman and Aquaman. The four dolls are a huge success and throughout the decade many additional superheroes are added to the line including both DC and Marvel Comics heroes, as well as Tarzan, Conan, and Isis. Mego also produces many additional 8 inch doll collections based on Planet of the Apes (1973), Star Trek (1974), Mad Monsters (1974), American West (1974), Tex Willer (1974), Jet Jungle (1974), Ultraman Leo (1974), World's Greatest Pirates (1974), Robin Hood (1974), Wizard of Oz (1974), Super Knights (1975), One Million Years BC (1975), The Waltons (1975), Fist Fighting Superheroes (1975), Casshan (1976), Happy Days (1976), Starsky and Hutch (1976), Our Gang (1976), Space 1999 (1976), Teen Titans (1977), Zorro (1977), Chips (1978), and Dukes of Hazzard (1981). Many playsets, vehicles and accessories were also made for the various collections.
1971 Mattel debuts their 9 inch Big Jim doll series which is produced until 1986. Collections within the Big Jim series include dolls based on Tarzan, Grizzly Adams, How the West Was Won, and Karl May. Big Jim's P.A.C.K. dolls were also introduced in 1976. Although marketed for boys, Big Jim's accessories such as shoes, a basketball, and even the doll's arms are shared with Mattel's Ken fashion doll that is marketed for girls as the male companion to Barbie.
1973 Gabriel begins producing their exceptional Lone Ranger 10 inch doll series which also includes two 8.5 inch teenager dolls. The bodies for the 8.5 inch dolls are later reused for The Boy doll in Gabriel's Lassie toy series (1976). The Ideal toy company later uses the same 8.5 body for the Dave Seville doll in the Alvin and the Chipmunks series (1983).
1973- 1978 The Excel Toy Corp. produces their Legends of the West series of 9.5 inch western dolls which includes four female characters and seven male characters.
1973 LJN produces an extensive series of 8 inch dolls, vehicles and accessories based on the Rookies TV series. Similar toys were marketed for two additional TV series, S.W.A.T. and Emergency, in 1975.
c1973 In the early 1970's the R Dakin company produced 8 inch to 10 inch dolls based on cartoon characters including those from Disney (Mickey Mouse and Pluto are shown above), Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, and many others. A 10 inch Disney Pinocchio doll similar in style to the Dakin doll was later produced by Applause in the late 1990's.
1974 Matchbox introduces their Fighting Furies series of 8 inch pirate dolls and a very cool pirate ship playset.
1974 Mattel debuts the Sunshine Family collection of 9 inch dolls marketed for girls. The series is based on a heterosexual couple with a baby and therefore included a male and female doll. Both Caucasian and African American versions of the dolls were made. Later the same male and female doll bodies were used for a second set of dolls depicting the couple's grandparents, which again were available in both skin tones. The doll bodies from this "girl doll" series are later reused to produce dolls marketed specifically for boys including Welcome Back Kotter (1976), Space 1999 (1976), and Mork and Mindy (1980).
1974 Kenner produces their 9 inch Official Scout High Adventure series of dolls for boys. The collection included four dolls. Steve Scout and Craig Cub are the Caucasian versions of the dolls, Bob Scout and Dave Cub are the African American versions. The Cub dolls are slightly shorter than the Scout dolls. A playset tower and other accessories were also produced.
1975 Regal Toy produces the 12 inch Bobby Orr doll. The head is soon changed making two distinct variations of the doll. This is possibly only the second instance of a doll being based on a sports celebrity (following Mego's Broadway Joe Namath from 1971), and likely the first doll ever to be based on a real hockey player.
1975 Kenner produces their 12 inch Six Million Dollar Man doll series followed in 1976 by the Bionic Woman doll series. Several playsets and accessories were also made.
c1975 During the 1970's the Knickerbocker toy company produced Snoopy and Belle dolls, based on the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Shultz. The dolls are similar to the cartoon Dakin dolls only larger. Similar Snoopy dolls are later reissued by Another Determined Production (shown above) in the early 1980's and the Tonner doll company in 2015.
c1975 In the mid to late 1970's Mego offered their 19 inch plush toy Super Softies dolls which included Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Lone Ranger and Wizard of Oz characters. The dolls came in talking and non-talking versions.
c1975 Following the popularity and success of Mego dolls three companies, Lincoln International, AHI, and Tomland, each produced separate collections of 8 inch monsters and aliens dolls.
1976 Hasbro debuts the 9 inch Super Joe line which eventually replaces the 12 inch dolls. Many interesting characters are made in the 9 inch series but the dolls are never quite as popular as the 12 inch series. In the late 1970's a separate series of four dolls is produced based on the TV series Space Academy using the same Super Joe doll bodies.
1976 Shindana Toy Company produces an 8 inch doll named Slade which is quite possibly the coolest doll ever made. Yes, even cooler than Fonzie! The same company also offers 8 inch dolls based on two sports celebrities, football player O.J. Simpson and basketball player Julius "Dr. J" Erving.
1976 Excel Toy Corp produces an 8 inch doll based on detective Kojak from the TV series of the same name. The doll is available in two different outfits.
1976 Remco produces the McDonaldland character doll series which has both 6 inch and 7.5 inch dolls. Each doll, with exception of Grimace, has a lever on the back to control the doll's head. In 2008 Huckleberry Toys reissued the dolls without the lever on the back.
1976 Mego debuts 9.5 inch dolls with collections based on Flash Gordon (1976), Doctor Who (1976), Muhammad Ali (1976), Robin from DC Comics (1977), Steve Goalgetter (1977), Franz Beckenbauer (1977), and Kristy McNichol (1977)
1976 Mego debuts their new 12 inch male and female fashion dolls with the Sonny and Cher series which become very popular toys for girls. The male Sony doll body is much improved upon compared to Mego's previous male fashion doll Ritchie. Later Mego produces other 12 inch dolls including Captain and Tennille (1977), The New Avengers (1977), Superman doll series (1978), Batman and Robin (1978), Wonder Woman doll series (1978) Spider-Man, Hulk and Captain America (1978), Kiss (1978), Laverne and Shirley (1978), Moonraker (1979), Buck Rogers (1979), Mighty Mightor (1979), Star Trek the Motion Picture (1980), Black Hole (1980), and Jordache male and female fashion dolls (1981). Most of these doll series were marketed specifically for boys and use a 12 inch version of Mego's popular 8 inch doll body.
1976 Knickerbocker introduced their Sesame Street rag dolls of Ernie and Bert which are available in several different sizes, from 4 inches to 25 inches. The dolls become very popular toys for both boys and girls. Talking and non-talking 15 inch versions of the dolls were made, and additional rag doll characters were added to the series, including Betty Lou and a talking version of the Count.
1978 Kenner produces their popular 12 inch Star Wars doll and action figure series, with some of the action figures being 14 inches tall. Han Solo (shown above left) is added to the series in 1979, and the doll body is reused that same year to produce the Hardy Boys doll series. The Han Solo doll and the same head sculpt, is later reused in 1982 to produce the Indiana Jones doll based on the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. In 1980, additional large size Star Wars dolls were issued based on the Star Wars film sequel, Empire Strikes Back.
1978 Knickerbocker produces large superhero plush toys of Spider-Man, Hulk and Superman which are similar to Mego's Super Softies from the mid 1970's.
1979 Mattel produces a Sport and Shave Ken 12 inch doll which reuses the arms and shoes from their 9 inch Big Jim doll series. Additional Ken dolls are also made using the Big Jim arms. Although still sold in the Barbie doll aisle, this Sport and Shave Ken doll seems to have been an attempt by Mattel to market Ken for boys.
1979 Knickerbocker produces Star Trek the Motion Picture 13 inch plush dolls with plastic heads.
1980 ERTL produces the Wrangler cowboy 12 inch fashion doll
1981 Knickerbocker produces a series of four Sesame Street poseable dolls that are 5 and 6 inches tall.
1983 Galoob produces a 12 inch Inspector Gadget doll. They also introduce their 12 inch Mr.T doll which is available in talking and non talking format.
1985 Hasbro produces Fido Dido 13 inch rag dolls.
1986 Hasbro introduces their Jem and the Holograms doll series which includes the male character Rio. The body from Rio is later reused for Hasbro's New Kids on the Block series in 1990.
1986 Mattel introduces Real Men, as series of finger puppet dolls based on sports including football, soccer, boxing and skateboarding. The set also included a female cheerleader.
1986 Mattel introduces Barbie and the Rockers as competition for Hasbro's Jem doll series.
1987 Mattel introduces their Spectra 12 inch fashion doll series which includes one male character, Tom Comet. The same doll body was reused for many Ken dolls including Hot Skatin' Ken/Winter Sports Ken (1997), Olympic Skater Ken (1997), Harley Davidson Ken dolls (1998 and 1999), Grand Ole Opry Ken (1999), 40th Anniversary Ken (2001), Lord of the Rings Legolas and Aragorn dolls (2004), Speed Racer (2008), the Ken Fashionistas series (2009) and many others. The same doll body was also used for the male dolls in the My Scene toy line (2003) however the hands and feet were made larger to match with the larger doll heads used in that series.
1990's During the 1990's Mattel produced several doll series based on Disney princesses and their male companions including Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and Peter Pan (1997) among others.
1991 Hasbro reintroduces 12 inch G.I Joe dolls to the market once again using a completely redesigned doll body. The new male doll body is used for numerous doll collections including Street Fighter II (1993), Apollo 13 (1995), Action Man (1995), Star Wars (1996), Batman & Robin movie (1997), Terminator 2 (1997), Planet of the Apes (1998), Universal Studios Monsters (1998), and Planet of the Apes movie (2001).
1993 Marchon, makers of Grand Champions girl horse jokey dolls, produces two Frontier Riders male doll and horse sets which include a cowboy and an aboriginal doll. These 6 inch dolls were marketed for boys.
1994 Playmates produces an extensive series of 9 inch dolls based on all of the Star Trek TV programs and movies that had been made up until that point including the first dolls to be based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek Voyager. Playmates also marketed dolls based on several new Star Trek movies during this period as they were released in theaters.
c1995 Exclusive Premier produces several Mego inspired collections of 9 inch dolls including Happy Days, Dukes of Hazzard, Chips, Gilligan's Island, Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, Brady Bunch, Honeymooners, Munsters, Get Smart, Blues Brothers, Grease, Babylon 5, White Christmas, James Bond, and Casablanca. Their celebrity doll series include George Burns, Clint Eastwood, James Dean, Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy.
1996 Mattel release the Ken and Barbie two pack set based on the original Star Trek TV series.
1996 Equity Toys produced an 8 inch doll and a large talking doll based on the live action Pinocchio movie.
c1997 Dr. Mego, aka Paul Clarke, begins re-issuing Mego doll parts in the United States and later in China. Rather than offering complete dolls he sells the various doll pieces individually, such as boots, shoes, clothing, doll bodies, heads, and accessories such as belts and weapons. The items are sold online to an international fan base of Mego doll collectors. As such, Mego dolls gain more popularity among collectors as does customizing Mego dolls to create original one of a kind dolls based on any character that one wishes to own.
1997 Hasbro produces 12 inch Quest for Camelot dolls
1997 ToyBiz produces the Famous Covers 9 inch doll series based on Marvel Comics superheroes.
1998 Playmates produces 12 inch dolls based on the film Star Trek Insurrection. Additional 12 inch Star Trek dolls followed based on the various TV series and films.
1999 Hasbro produces a series of 9 inch DC Comics superhero dolls
1999 Toy Biz produces a series of 9 inch WWF Wrestling dolls as well as a series of smaller action figures with fabric doll clothes as accessories, such as jackets or T-shirts.
1999 Wildstorm toy company produces 11.5 inch dolls based on Gen 13 comic books. These dolls have a unique stylized slim doll body.
1999 Breyer, markers of girl horse jokey dolls, includes some 7 inch cowboy dolls in their line of toys including a rodeo rider with a bucking horse.
1999 Mattel produces 12 inch fashion dolls and a 12 inch action figure style doll based on the Disney Tarzan movie.
1999 Toy Biz produces an extensive series of 10 inch action figures and dolls for their Marvel Universe series.
2000 Mattel debuts Max Steel 12 inch dolls to compete against Hasbro's Action Man. Numerous dolls, vehicles and accessories are produced for both of these companies boy doll series.
2001 Toy Biz begins producing their series of 12 inch dolls based on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
2002 Side Show Toys produces 12 inch dolls based on The Dark Crystal.
2003 Toy Biz produces two versions of their Incredible Hulk 13 inch doll based on the movie.
2004 Mattel introduces Blaine as Barbie's new boyfriend who replaces Ken. The doll reuses Ken's body. By 2008 Ken is back with a new face design and Blaine is out.
2004 Classic TV Toys (CTVT), a division of Figures Toy Company (FTC), produces all-new Mego style 8 inch dolls based on The Munsters, and I Love Lucy. The company also begins re-issuing several of Mego's classic doll collections, such as Happy Days, Space 1999, Super Knights, Super Pirates, Robin Hood, and Mad Monsters. Remarkably, the quality of the FTC reissued Mego dolls is considerably inferior to the original Mego produced dolls from the 1970's. In 2013 FTC began re-issuing the DC Comics superheroes dolls as well as producing all-new Mego style superhero dolls.
c2005 Mattel introduces a new fashion doll series called Monster High which has completely redesigned male and female dolls. Although this series would have appeal to boys as well as girl, oddly, Mattel is marketing the series exclusively to girls.
c2005 Disney Stores offer two 10 inch articulated dolls based on Nightmare Before Christmas.
c2005 DC Comics offers an extensive series of 13 inch collectors dolls as part of the DC Direct collection.
2006 Hasbro introduces their 8 inch G.I Joe: Sigma 6 action figure series which have fabric accessories and costume pieces.
2006 Hasbro introduces their 9 inch doll series based on Marvel Comics superheroes and marketed under the titles Marvel Signature Series, Spider-Man Origins, and Marvel Legends.
2006 Mattel offers several different sized dolls based on the Superman Returns movie.
2008 Dr. Mego and EMCE Toys began reissuing the Mego Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and more recently Marvel superhero dolls. The quality of these reissued Mego dolls is significantly better than the pervious FTC reissued Mego dolls.
2009 Diamond Select produces a set of 19 inch Star Trek dolls based on Captain Kirk and Spock.
2010 Mattel introduces the 8 inch Retro Action DC Heroes series which is based on Mego superhero dolls.
2012 Bif Bang Pow produces a series of 8 inch Mego style dolls based on the original Battlestar Galactica TV series.
2013 Disney offers 12 inch dolls based on their new Lone Ranger film starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp.
2013 Breyer introduces a new 8 inch doll series that includes two male cowboy dolls.
2014 Mattel produces two 12 inch dolls based on the Divergent movie. The male doll, Four, has a more muscular doll body than Mattel's previous fashion dolls.
2014 The Figures Toy Company produces 8 inch Mego style dolls based on the 1966 Batman TV series while also expanding upon their other collections of dolls for boys. The quality of these FTC dolls has improved slightly over their 2004 releases, yet they still have significant issues of poor manufacturing and design quality.
2014 EMCE and Diamond Select Toys team up to release reissued 8 inch Mego Marvel superhero boxed sets. The quality of these Mego reissued dolls is superior to any Mego reissues that have been produced to date.
Photos and text © Mike Artelle 2014