Photo of a “walkies” doll toy.

The Wilson Novelty Company produced this “Wilson Walkie” U.S. Army soldier toy sometime between 1936 and 1949 at John Wilson’s small garage factory in Watsonville, Pa., along the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg. Wilson started the company after he lost his carpenter’s job in 1935 at age 63.

A penguin, nurse, clown, and Santa Claus were some of the many other models. Wilson’s popular toys supported a cottage industry and 80 full-time and 20 part-time workers during the Depression. Housewives, high school students, and unemployed male workers did piece work at home making clothing and parts for the dolls. At peak production, 10,000 dolls a day were completed!

Wilson died in 1948. The company hung on for one more year until the toys took their final stroll down the production ramp.

This story appeared in the 2024 Winter issue of American History magazine.

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