Albert Schoenhut, Design for an Improved Sailboat (1901)

In 1901, Albert Schoenhut patented his improvements to the toy sailboat (U.S. Patent No. 685,648). In 1911, he applied for an additional patent for a special extending keel. The following year, the company’s fortieth-anniversary catalogue posited a strong connection between design improvements, enhanced technology, and the growing satisfaction of their discerning child customers. The section on toy sailboats, for instance, emphasized the high quality and low price of Schoenhut vessels, but especially the fact that they could actually sail. Here, technical innovation served the end goal of realism.

As the catalogue copy explained, “There is a large measure of satisfaction to the average boy in possessing a sailboat that really sails, the sails of which he can lower, raise and reef just as the real sailor does. This is the kind of satisfaction that the dealer in Schoenhut sailboats sells. There is no disappointment in Schoenhut boats to reflect on the toy store’s other stocks.” Thus, the realism of the toy, which allowed the child to mimic the adult sailor, was the ultimate index of customer satisfaction. Such pleasures were not meant exclusively for boys. Still, within the framework of this particular gendered toy, “the average boy” was empowered as a customer