The “plastic infant”, who made the hearts of doll mothers beat faster with “breathtaking success”, had “very special qualities”, reported the “Hamburger Abendblatt” on November 30, 1991 - “the doll makes Pippi”.
And this is exactly how a brand new innovation from the traditional toy manufacturer Zapf became a top seller in the Christmas business.
Because what Zapf had come up with in such a cute way went beyond sucking the bottle and crying tears, which had been the norm for a long time: »The doll has - brand new and without batteries - its own digestive system.
When you lay it down, it wets its diaper and when it sits down, it goes into the potty. ”Reliably, and only triggered by pulling on the arm.
That was really new in 1991 because it was surprisingly inexpensive.
For decades, so-called functional dolls have been walking, babbling and moving through the children's rooms, consuming batteries en masse.
Coupling the function of the artificial child back to a mechanical lever and pump mechanism, on the other hand, was downright retro - and extremely clever: it promised lower costs and less effort.
Efforts have been made for more than 150 years to make dolls look and behave more like real babies.
Functional dolls, which mimicked the fluid balance and metabolism of babies, weren't really new either.
Feed only with the company mush
"Baby Alive", "born" in 1973 by the US manufacturer Kenner, already had all the bodily functions of the successful German doll presented 18 years later.
The big difference: "Baby Alive" could also be fed with liquid and porridge.
But you never really knew whether the whole thing would be eliminated at the top or bottom - a form of realism that was not only applauded on the market.
Only later, battery-powered models were able to reliably use the digestive tract in only one direction.
Baby Born, on the other hand, did its business purely mechanically and with Franconian perfection: what was filled in at the top ended up in the diaper at the bottom.
And that is why a hitherto unheard of money blessing soon rang in the Zapf cash register.
Now you couldn't just offer clothes and toys for the little android;
just like in real life, he asked for fresh diapers and a suitable lining to fill them.
Because you could hardly avoid the company's own mush: Hundreds of thousands of doll mothers soon found out that it was better to forego oatmeal, flour and other, obvious and inexpensive alternatives - there was a risk of acute constipation and mold formation.
Zapf sold up to five million dolls a year in the mid-1990s, Baby Born alone accounted for up to 80 percent of the company's turnover.
At the end of the decade, the medium-sized company even dared to go public, but this quickly turned out to be a mistake - it withdrew again in 2018.
Nevertheless, Baby Born remained the company's most important box office hit from Rödental near Coburg in Upper Franconia.
Glass eyes: How toys became "real"
It is no coincidence that the successful doll comes from this region.
As early as the 16th century, the notoriously poor region between the Harz Mountains, the Ore Mountains and the Bavarian Forest had developed into the center of a growing European toy industry.
The factories there became known primarily for their wooden toys with clever functions - including, of course, dolls with movable limbs, as they were already known in ancient Rome.
The onset of the industrial revolution with its new materials and manufacturing options ensured that toys could be designed more and more refined and lifelike.
As early as 1832, Heinrich Adelmann, a young doctor of medicine from Würzburg, noticed a doll that his daughter was playing with.
The most lifelike element of the doll's head were the eyes: they shone almost humanly.
A skilled doll maker had put glass eyes into the artificial head.
Adelmann investigated where such toys were probably made.
He was shown the way to Thuringia.
In Lauscha he found the glassblower Ludwig Müller-Uri, one of the most skilful of his guild.
Thuringian toy makers had provided dolls and stuffed animals with simple glass eyes as early as the middle of the 18th century.
But Müller-Uri tried to make it lifelike.
When Adelmann asked him if something like this could also be produced for people, he initiated two developments.
Müller-Uri developed eye prostheses cast in milk glass for people, to whom he gave pupils with enamel colors.
His "glass eyes" began to replace eye patches made of metal and leather in 1835.
Of course, the new eyes also had an effect on toy production: more and more realistic dolls were created.
This turned dolls made in wood or paper mache into toys and collectibles that looked like real babies.
Better not to yell at children
The first patent for a talking doll that was supposed to say Mama and Papa was filed in France as early as 1832 - whether the vision was ever implemented is questionable.
A good 30 years later there were numerous dolls for sale in the USA that were supposed to make speech noises: mechanical imitations of inferior quality.
This inspired Thomas Alva Edison to put the phonograph he developed in 1877 into practical use: In the same year he patented a talking doll with a built-in phonograph, which was actually built from May 1888 and sold shortly afterwards.
However, Edison experienced an unusual failure: after only six weeks, the sales attempts were over.
If you want to know why, you just have to listen to the reconstructed recording of the first Edison doll - it primarily spread fear and horror in children.
The reason was the primitive recording apparatus.
Each individual doll had to be played individually by a worker because phonographic recordings could not yet be copied.
The primitive microphone was so insensitive that the women had to "shout" their texts into the doll.
What the child got to hear: through static crackling, a distorted female voice shouting "Twinkle, twinkle little star" and other nursery rhymes for good night.
After all, "vinyl dolls" based on Edison's patent are still being sold, but today with child-friendly content.
Not too much: interaction is only moderately good
At the end of the 19th century there was to be a hail of innovations in doll making.
From 1889, the Thuringian toy manufacturer Franz Schmidt and Co. began to equip their dolls with lifelike porcelain heads from the Simon & Halbig company.
The best of them came from Kämmer & Reinhardt, who had the ambition to recreate small, idealized people with their dolls' heads.
In 1903, Kämmer & Reinhardt patented the glass sleeping eye, which was first installed by Franz Schmidt and quickly established itself: when you put your artificial baby to rest, it closed its eyelids.
From this collaboration between three companies, the "character doll" emerged from 1908, an expensive collector's and decorative object that approached a new level of perfection - in many small steps.
It was not until 1912 that the obvious and convincing idea of giving children's dolls open nostrils in order to make them appear "more real" was born.
Toy Quiz: Scandalous Toys and Their History
Toy Quiz: Scandalous Toys and Their History
In 1934 the US company Ideal Toy Company brought the first doll, "Betsy Wetsy", onto the market that was bottle-fed so that she could wet her diaper immediately afterwards.
She couldn't cry about it: That only occurred to the American Character Doll Company in 1950.
"Tiny Tears" cried when pressed on her stomach.
The water came out of two small openings on the nasal saddle, i.e. between the eyes.
There was no other way, otherwise water could have clogged the rocking mechanism of the sleeping eyes.
Moving dolls stayed in the niche
What had been developed for expensive and sensitive porcelain dolls, of course, was also adapted for the plastic dolls that appeared from 1942 onwards.
In fact, it was such new materials that made more complex interactions possible.
With "Pre-Teen Tressy" a kind of childish fashion doll appeared in 1963, whose hair could grow.
Hair was pulled out of her skull or back again as desired, so there were different hairstyles.
Since then, the idea has been picked up again and again, but never made it out of its niche.
This also applied to running dolls.
Around 1950 a number of companies brought independently running baby dolls onto the market.
They were basically based on "automatons" of the early 19th century, watchmaking masterpieces that could be wound with the help of keys.
They moved their mouths, eyes, arms and hands, and some also ran.
But they had never been toys in the true sense of the word, but always an elaborate, extremely expensive attraction.
A patent from 1934 reduced the complicated mechanisms to an easy-to-install, simple spring drive for modern baby dolls.
In 1964 Mattel introduced the first battery-powered running doll, Baby First Step, but such dolls never became a real bestseller: Children want dolls that can be played with - not robots that act for them.
With toys, for example, there seems to be a limit to the desired interaction.
The inventors of the doll's eye, which reacts to sound and follows the movements of the playing child, have also been waiting in vain for their supposedly ingenious idea from 1994 to develop into a business.
You may be following in Edison's footsteps.