Open up any toy box around the world and you’ll be sure to find the creations of the esteemed inductees into the 2021 Toy Industry Hall of Fame: William C. Killgallon – who transformed the Etch A Sketch into a household name; Pleasant T. Rowland – the trailblazer who founded American Girl; and the late Margarete Steiff – inspiring inventor of the world’s first stuffed animal. Additionally, Phillip Bloom, founder of “The Bloom Report,” was inducted for his work as a respected toy news pioneer.
This year’s Hall of Fame inductees were nominated and voted on by members of The Toy Association in recognition of their significant contributions to the industry and the impact they have had on the lives of children through a lifelong commitment to toys and play. They will join an impressive roster of 77 toy industry luminaries who have been inducted into the Hall since it was established in 1984, including those who brought to life Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney), Barbie (Ruth and Elliot Handler), The Muppets (Jim Henson), and more.
“This year’s Hall of Fame inductees have made an enduring mark on the toy industry and in the hearts of countless millions of children worldwide,” said Steve Pasierb, president & CEO of The Toy Association. “Phillip Bloom, William C. Killgallon, Pleasant T. Rowland, and Margarete Steiff are changemakers and innovators whose careers and inventions are an inspiration to us all. If these past months of the pandemic have taught us anything, it’s that toys and play have the awesome power to comfort, heal, and bring hope to kids both young and old. So, it is with great pleasure and pride that we announce their induction and celebrate their myriad achievements.”
The 2021 inductees were honored at an induction ceremony held in conjunction with the 21st annual Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards ceremony that took place virtually on Friday, February 12, 2021.
ABOUT THE 2021 INDUCTEES
2021 Living Inductee
With a career spanning 40+ years, Philip Bloom got his start in the 1950s working in an early version of a discount store. He went on to hold various store management, buying, and merchandising positions at mass retail merchants through the 1970s and 1980s, including Children’s Bargaintown in Chicago (one of two regional toy retailers that eventually became Toys“R”Us), and Circus World Toy Stores in Detroit, where he served as senior vice president and general merchandise manager, and was instrumental in the company’s expansion from nine to 150 stores. Seeing an entrepreneurial opportunity, Bloom moved to the New York area and became president of Toy Retailers, Inc. in New Jersey, where he developed the concept of retailing children’s clothing in a combination store with toys. As big-box retail flourished in the 1980s, Bloom re-joined Toys“R”Us in 1983. He was appointed vice president of merchandising and pioneered the merchandising initiatives in the first 10 Toys“R”Us international locations. After retiring in 1998, Bloom created an online toy industry newsletter. Today, “The Bloom Report” has 8,000+ subscribers in 29 countries who visit the website 3.6 times per week on average for toy industry news that is updated throughout every business day.
2021 Living Inductee
William C. Killgallon
William C. Killgallon joined the Ohio Art Company in 1969 and served as president and CEO from 1978 until his retirement in 2016, capping a 47-year run, and today serves as chairman of the board. During his tenure, Killgallon oversaw the development and marketing of hundreds of toys, including the company’s most famous brand, Etch A Sketch, which enjoyed a renaissance under his leadership. Because of his stewardship, Etch A Sketch continues to be one of the world’s most iconic toy brands. Killgallon’s commitment to quality and safety was second to none; to ensure products met the exacting and ever-changing toy safety standards, he consistently held the manufacturing team and engineers to the highest standards, instituting an internal program that bundled all retailer requirements, focusing on the most stringent ones and using them as the basis for all toys. This approach soon became the industry standard. Colleagues have called him a man of high character, as well as a valued business partner who respected honest competition and an advocate for policies and conduct that benefited the entire toy industry.
2021 Living Inductee
Pleasant T. Rowland
Pleasant T. Rowland founded American Girl after a trip to Colonial Williamsburg in 1986, when she combined her love of American history and her commitment to high-quality educational products to create The American Girls Collection, a line of historically accurate books, dolls, and accessories representing pivotal times in America’s past. As a trailblazer in creating purposeful play, Pleasant expanded her vision with the launch of a contemporary line, now called Truly Me, that celebrates girls’ individuality with dolls featuring a diverse array of face shapes, skin tones, eye colors, and hairstyles, as well as a line of advice books, Smart Girl’s Guide, which has sold 12 million copies. She went on to create the Girl of the Year line, featuring contemporary characters who experience modern-day issues, and Bitty Baby, a nurturing line of diverse baby dolls. Mattel acquired the brand in 1998 and shortly thereafter, Rowland fulfilled her dream of opening an experiential retail store, American Girl Place-Chicago, where fans could shop the product in person and immerse themselves in unique dining, theatre, and salon experiences with their dolls. To date, American Girl has welcomed 100+ million visitors to its popular stores and has been recognized as a premier model for experiential retail.
2021 Posthumous Inductee
Born in 1847 in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany, Margarete Steiff (1847-1909) was stricken with polio at 18 months old and would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. As a young girl, her parents arranged for her to take sewing lessons along with her sisters; they felt these lessons were vitally important so that she could one day support herself. Even though polio had left her permanently paralyzed, she learned to use her one good arm to operate a sewing machine, and by 1879, was skilled enough to begin making and selling clothing under her own brand name. While thumbing through a fashion magazine of the era, the now-accomplished seamstress noticed a pattern for a small elephant pincushion. She decided to make a few of these as gifts for friends and family. Before long, the children of Giengen had adopted and repurposed the pincushions as the world’s first soft toys and an entirely new kind of plaything was born, replacing the wooden and tin toys and hard bisque dolls of the era. By 1893, Steiff’s company shifted away from the clothing business to focus exclusively on toys. The growing entity gained its biggest boost in 1897, when her nephew, Richard Steiff, joined the firm. He went on to invent the Teddy bear in 1902 and by 1907, Margarete Steiff GmbH was producing more than 1 million Teddy bears a year. Today, the Steiff assortment of more than 800 different bears and other animals is available on every continent.
Congrats to all of the inductees!