Horst Brandstätter bet everything on plastic: In the 1950s, the Bavarian entrepreneur had anticipated that plastic, not metal would be the future of children’s toys. While his instincts proved him right, the oil crisis of the 1970s hit his company, the Brandstätter Group, hard.
Out of sheer necessity, he came up with small plastic figures with somewhat moveable arms and legs, using only a minimum of oil-based material.
In 1974, when wooden train sets and teddy bears still dominated German playtime, the inventor still had a hard time at toy trade fairs convincing distributors of his product’s potential. But children quickly took to the plastic pirates, knights and princesses, and the boats and castles they came with.
Under the brand name Playmobil, the little 7.5-centimeter (3-inch) plastic figurines became a huge hit around the world. A total of 2.7 billion of the toys have left the factories since.