The (approximately) 5″ tall Coldstream Guards of England pictured above were manufactured by Pfeiffer, a doll maker in Vienna in the very late 19th/very early 20th cenutury. Pfeiffer dolls’ heads, hands and feet were made of composition- a mixture of sawdust and glue. They were hand painted with great life-like detail.  (examples of Peiffer/Peiffer- like dolls are shown below).

Around 1898 it must have occured to the makers that half the toy market was missing out on their products. Thus they introduced a line of soldiers (British guards, Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, etc. The detail and accuracy of their handpainted dolls carried over into the soldiers.

In 1904 Pfeiffer was purchased by Hauser, another doll maker. This company, under the brand name “Elastolin” manufactured a huge line of toy composition figures, soldiers of all nations, knights, Native Americans, farm and zoo animals. Elastolin is in business to this day though the figures now are plastic.
In Elastolin’s pre-WW2 heyday the specialty was fighting men like this duo from the “Old Shatterhand” novels of Karl Maye locked in mortal combat

Somehow, though, almost in tribute to their doll origins, among Elastolin (and Lineol the other great German composition figure maker) most interesting, most human creations are camp scenes with an injured man toting a pail of water, a band master with a “Kaiser Wilhelm” mustache, or a bugler in a tense moment.

History, as we know, repeats itself. In 1964 Hasbro Toys executives contemplated the amazing success of Mattel’s Barbie Doll, she of the endless wardrobe, vast accessories, even a boyfriend who needed to be outfitted. Barbie was a money machine.

The answer, of course, was G.I. Joe whose wardrobe rivalled Barbie’s in size and variety and whose accessories – everything from grenades to Armored Personnel Carriers – was at least as vast.

Ken may have been Barbie’s boyfriend but G.I. Joe was made for her (or at least for the brothers of the girls who played with her). Nobody at Hasbro ever said this was the ultimate boy’s doll.  But like many things never said it was true.Perhaps the last great toy soldier as play moves online. Joe was a doll for boys but far from the first one.

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