Hans Beck, the German inventor of Playmobil toys, created in response to the soaring cost of plastic due to the oil crisis in the early 70’s, has died after a long illness. Beck was 79 and passed away near Lake Constance in southern Germany, where he moved after his retirement in 1998.
Originally a cabinetmaker, Hans Beck was hired as a toy developer by the Brandstätter Group in 1958. In 1971 he was commissioned to create a new and collectible play concept that didn’t impose specific play patterns on children. It was initially suggested that he design a variety of cars. Instead Beck came up with the series of simple action figures standing less than 3 inches tall with moving arms and legs that bent at the hip and wore snap-on clothes. The original toys included knights, construction workers and Native Americans. They were unveiled at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1974 and needless to say, they were an instant and resounding flop. Adults may not have gotten the concept, but kids certainly did. Playmobil toys became a huge international success. In the 35 years since their development, they have sold more than 2.2 billion figures in more than 70 countries. I have a 6 year old son whose room is, more often then not, cluttered with Playmobil pirates, rescue workers, police officers, knights and dragons -- strewn from wall to wall.
Beck created a whole fantasy world following his toy-making motto -- "no horror, no superficial violence, no short-lived trends."
Over the years Playmobil has won numerous prizes for their quality and ingenuity as well as for their educational potential. Expanding their line with a myriad of toys and sets, Playmobil has come up with every possible historic and vocational desire a kid could ever want, from firefighters, nurses, deep sea divers, cowboys, Romans, jewel thieves, hot dog vendors, astronauts, circus animal trainers, veterinarians, Egyptologists, police tracking dogs and airport security. Brandstätter, which employs a staff of 3,000, posted $408 million in sales last year, mostly due to their Playmobil division.
Hans Beck is survived by his wife and a son.