Albert Schoenhut (born February 5, 1849 in Göppingen, Württemberg; died February 3, 1912 in Philadelphia, PA) began making toy pianos as a youth in Württemberg. In 1866, he immigrated to the United States to take up work at John Wanamaker’s Philadelphia department store, where he was responsible for repairing the glass sounding pieces in toy pianos imported from Germany. In 1872, he set out on his own and founded the Schoenhut Piano Company. The Philadelphia-based toy firm, which later became known as the A. Schoenhut Company, was incorporated in 1897. In its early years, the company focused on the manufacture of toy pianos and other musical instruments, quickly establishing a reputation for quality that was largely based on German handicraft traditions. Over time, the company expanded and began manufacturing other products, such as the Humpty Dumpty Circus, which was introduced around the turn of the century. In addition to the circus, the company also began producing dolls, games, play sets, and a variety of figures, all of which enjoyed immense popularity. In the process, the A. Schoenhut Company became the largest toy manufacturer in America. Schoenhut himself became known as the “King of Toy Makers” and the “Santa Claus of Kensington.” Despite the air of legend that surrounded him, Schoenhut always kept a careful eye on his business, which continued to grow through his emphasis on innovation, his pursuit of transatlantic markets, and his implementation of broad advertising strategies. By the time that Albert Schoenhut died in 1912, the “House of Schoenhut” included a plant and offices in Philadelphia, a sales office in New York, and a thriving catalogue business. He left the business to his six sons, who led and grew the company until 1935. Though the company has gone through numerous incarnations and changes in ownership since then, it still exists today as Schoenhut Toy Piano.
Albert Frederick Schoenhut was born in the town of Göppingen in the kingdom of Württemberg. Sources vary on his date of birth. The Germany Emigration Index lists May 2, 1848, as his birthdate, while U.S. passport application records suggest February 5, 1849. A third-generation toy maker, Albert Schoenhut was trained from an early age by his father, Frederick, and his grandfather, Anton, both of whom passed on their technical and artisanal skills as well as their passion for the business. The family’s trade was far from uncommon in Göppingen, which has a long history of toy production and has been home to firms such as Märklin since the middle of the nineteenth century.
In 1866, at age seventeen, Albert sailed to the United States. He arrived in New York and continued on to Philadelphia. The reasons for his emigration are described in various – and likely apocryphal – accounts. For instance, according to one legend, after a young Albert Schoenhut fashioned a toy piano for his landlord's daughter, word spread of the beautiful little instrument, requests poured in, and the Schoenhut Piano Company came into being.” Another version of the Schoenhut story suggests that he was “erfolglos” (unsuccessful) at home as a woodworker and decided to seek a fresh start abroad.
According to the likeliest narrative, Albert Schoenhut immigrated to the United States after an American recruiter learned of his toy making skills and offered him a job: “In 1866,” as one source explained, “John Dahl, a buyer for Wanamaker's department store, heard of young Albert's talent and brought the seventeen-year-old to Philadelphia where he worked as a repairman on glass sounding pieces in German toy pianos that had been damaged in shipping.” At the time, virtually all of the toy pianos sold in the United States had been manufactured in Germany and imported. Unfortunately, the instruments’ glass sounding pieces were very delicate and often broke during the ocean voyage. For firms like Wanamaker’s, it made sense to have a German-trained craftsman on staff.
The training Schoenhut had received at home in Göppingen served him well in the United States, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1868. Two years later, on January 30, 1870, Albert married Emilie Elizabeth Langbein Schoenhut (1851-1915) in the Salem Zion United Church of Christ in Philadelphia. Though born in the United States, Emilie Langbein was the daughter of two first-generation German immigrants, Gustav Langbein and Louise Dürr. Albert and Emilie Schoenhut went on to have eight children, six sons and two daughters: Albert Frederick Schoenhut (1871-1950), Emilie Louise Schoenhut Stein (1874-1931), Caroline Schoenhut (1877-1954), Gustav Adolf Schoenhut (1879-1960), Theodore Carl Schoenhut (1881-1918), William George Schoenhut (1883-1943), Harry Edison Schoenhut (1889-1952), and Otto Franklin Schoenhut (1891-1959).
While working for Wanamaker, Schoenhut improved upon the design of the basic toy piano by replacing the instrument’s fragile glass sounding pieces with robust steel plates. Ultimately, Schoenhut’s interest in innovation led him out of the employ of others and into business himself. In 1872, he began making his own toy pianos in a storefront at 2337 Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. His business, the Schoenhut Piano Company (later renamed the A. Schoenhut Company), specialized in toy pianos but quickly branched out into other toy instruments as well. By 1875, Schoenhut was listed in Gopsill’s Philadelphia City Directory as a manufacturer of “patent metallic toy pianos & metallophones.” Thus, Schoenhut’s business drew on two longstanding German traditions: toy making and the production of musical instruments, in which German and German-American firms had long excelled (e.g. Wurlitzer and Steinway). Indeed, Schoenhut toy pianos soon developed a reputation for quality workmanship and excellent sound. Schoenhut’s emphasis on technical innovation is evidenced by the numerous patents that he acquired for improvements to the toy piano and other musical instruments such as the trumpet (1892).
In the 1880 U. S. Census, Albert Schoenhut was listed as thirty-two years old; his given occupation was Piano Key Maker. At the time, toy manufacturing in the United States was poised on the cusp of a major transformation. That same 1880 census, for example, listed 173 toy manufacturers; twenty years later, as Richard O’Brien has observed, that number had jumped to 500. The industry was not only expanding but changing as well. Historian Gary Cross describes Schoenhut as one of the “leaders in the transition from the conventional production of European-style toys sold like dry goods to the mass production of distinctly American playthings advertised as novelties and appealing to the new ideas of childrearing.”
The A. Schoenhut Company, Manufacturer of Toys and Novelties, was incorporated in 1897. At the beginning of the new century, Schoenhut’s company employed 125 workers and was located at 2215 Adams Street. Business was flourishing and the following decade saw even greater growth. The success of the company at that particular time was largely attributable to Schoenhut’s prescient decision to purchase, in 1902, the rights to a newly patented jointed toy clown developed by fellow German immigrant Fritz Meinecke. As the story goes, Meinecke “walked into Schoenhut’s office with the invention, for which he wanted one hundred dollars outright. Schoenhut assured him [that] royalties would pay him far more in time, but the man refused.” Schoenhut paid Meinecke the $100 that he requested for the transfer of the toy and the patent rights.
At the time of Schoenhut’s meeting with Meinecke, big top circuses, such as those run by the Ringling Brothers and P. T. Barnum, were enjoying immense popularity with American audiences. In 1903, Schoenhut decided to capitalize on the contemporary circus mania by selling Meinecke’s jointed clown, along with a chair and a ladder, as part of a three-piece set called the Humpty Dumpty Circus. Schoenhut’s circus sold well and additional pieces – a donkey, an elephant, a white horse, etc. – were quickly added to the set. Soon, the standard version of the Humpty Dumpty Circus included ten core performers, over thirty different animals, and a variety of accessories ranging from simple props to a three-dimensional canvas tent.
If the toy piano built A. Schoenhut’s reputation, then the Humpty Dumpty Circus catapulted it to financial success. A local, national, and even international sensation, the Humpty Dumpty Circus was one of the few early American toys to be exported in quantity. In addition to tapping into the widespread public interest in circuses, the Humpty Dumpty Circus satisfied children’s desire for open-ended play. Play sets of the sort encouraged unrestricted play by providing children with a context – in this case, a circus – in which their imaginations could be let loose. This kind of imaginative play, it was felt, had great educational value; it schooled children not only in fantasy, but also in role-playing as a form of preparation for the adult world.
Over time, the company placed greater emphasis on the educational value of the Humpty Dumpty Circus and began marketing it to parents and teachers. In one promotional publication, for instance, the company wrote: “In the home and also in the kindergarten the educational training of eye and hand are more and more appreciated the longer these toys are used, especially when the children are encouraged to work out their own ideas by means of the figures.” The copy, which dates from 1928, even posits a connection between play and performance later in life: “Boys that started to play with the Humpty Dumpty Circus Toys in the early years of 1903-4-5 are men now, some of great prominence, Doctors, Lawers (sic), Judges, Manufacturers, Merchants, etc., etc. and many of them refer to the Happy Days they spent with Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty Circus Toys.” Schoenhut’s play sets, it seems, were not only fun but also edifying: in company parlance, they were “The Most Popular and Most Instructive Toys in the World.”
From a marketing standpoint, play sets such as the Humpty Dumpty Circus were highly advantageous to companies, since children were always interested in procuring additional figures and pieces. Children – or more often, their parents – could acquire figures on a piecemeal basis, as their budget allowed, with the goal being the acquisition of the entire set. According to the company, there were “thousands of children boasting of having our complete Circus.” Consumers could purchase Schoenhut toys at retailers, but also directly from the company through its mail-order catalogue. The individual figures ranged in price, thus catering to parent-purchasers of various income levels. Newspaper advertisements featured affordable items; trade sheets and company catalogues appealed to a high-end market through lively copy and compelling images.
By 1907, four years after the introduction of the Humpty Dumpty Circus, the A. Schoenhut Company had 400 employees and occupied a five-story factory building at the corner of Adams and Sepviva Streets. It was a time during which the company expanded, acquired a steady stream of patents, and gained a far-reaching reputation for its high quality, durable, and endlessly entertaining toys. In 1908, Schoenhut patented a rolly doll. Designed primarily for infants and toddlers, the simple, colorful doll had a weighted bottom, so that it always returned to its original upright position after being pushed over. The rolly doll and other Schoenhut toys “celebrated the playfulness of infancy,” as Gary Cross has argued, but they also created an important new market. According to Cross, one key Schoenhut business decision was the expansion of production to include toys for infants and toddlers.
In 1911, Schoenhut applied for a patent for a jointed wooden doll, which soon became the prototype for the “All Wood Perfection Art Doll.”  Mass production started that very same year. The dolls were of high quality and aesthetic appeal, with steel spring hinges for joints and modeled basswood heads. They were designed and “hand carved by an Italian noble, Graziano, who was one of the best known sculptors at that time.” Lifelike and realistic, the dolls could be dressed in contemporary clothing. In 1917, the company even hired a couturier, Mrs. Katherine A. Rauser, to design clothing for the dolls. Schoenhut’s “All Wood Perfection Art Dolls” were, as Susan Manos explained, “an instant success and orders came in, not only from American toy buyers but from Germany, France and Britain.” The development and gradual refinement of the “All Wood Perfection Art Doll’” is generally regarded as the Schoenhut Company’s most significant contribution to the history of toy production.
In the minds of children, Schoenhut dolls could do everything but eat and talk, and this zeal for the real, so to speak, was largely responsible for the dolls’ phenomenal success. Indeed, in a celebratory catalogue published on the fortieth anniversary of the company in 1912, Schoenhut’s sons attributed the success of their products, including their dolls, to “the era of realism.” Thus, the trope of the real, however we choose to define it, must inform the analysis of Schoenhut’s toys. Back in 1872, Schoenhut’s first product, the toy piano, had been lauded as “true to life,” and for this reason, it ushered in a new era in American toy manufacturing. As the fortieth anniversary catalogue explains: “Before that time, toys were fanciful creations, obeying no law other than the mind of the toy maker. But deep down in the heart of every child is the passion for real life, for true stories.”
To be sure, the assertion that toys made prior to this time were “fanciful creations” was a clear overstatement, and mostly just a marketing device. To refute it, we need look no further than the exquisitely reproduced dollhouses from early modern Nuremberg, the detailed miniature kitchens of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the baby dolls from the same period, and the books and dolls designed for daughters who were learning to do the wash. Here, it is important to emphasize that the popularity of Schoenhut’s dolls, like that of the Nuremberg dollhouses, etc., was based both on their truth to life and on the blurring of reality and fantasy in play. The dolls allowed for play as a rehearsal of reality, as an unconscious process of preparation for adult life.
Toys regulate gendered play, and children “perform” gender when they use toys, especially certain toys, such as dolls and guns. Toys appeal to historically specific gendered categories, and Schoenhut products were no exception: their manufacture and marketing aligned with the division of gendered labor in the private and public spheres. As a result, play in modernity replicated the experiences of the adult world: girls recreated bourgeois households and rehearsed their future roles as wives and mothers; boys were schooled in citizenship and prepared to become policemen, soldiers, and leaders.
In the anniversary catalogue, the Schoenhut sons credited their father with creating real and imaginative toys for boys that responded to their lust for adulthood: “He made it possible for the youngsters to play at soldier, policeman, etc., in costumes that looked the part.” The toys helped boys “try on” the identity of male authority figures, and, at the same time, strengthened their bond with their fathers. According to the catalogue, “Toy Shooting Galleries, with guns shooting hollow rubber balls or corks, make as much fun for the father as for the boys. They satisfy the innate desire to shoot without the risk attendant upon bullet-shooting guns.” Here, the Schoenhuts’ claim naturalized the masculine “desire to shoot” but introduced a safety feature, or minimal risk; this add-on enabled a shared experience between fathers and sons. This point, subtle but crucial, remained ancillary to the marketing strategy, which was to promote sales.
Generally speaking, Schoenhut toys relegated female play to the household and left the building of models and the wearing of uniforms to boys. Still, while reflecting the mores of the time, some Schoenhut products, such as the “Build a village” series, also crossed gender in their appeal. Although the Schoenhut Company viewed boys as the primary consumers of toy airplanes, it made marketing overtures to girls as well. A 1928 company trade catalogue asked: “Where Is There a Boy Not Interested in Aeroplanes?” and then announced: “EVERY BOY WANTS TO BUILD AN AEROPLANE.” Predictably, the prose was accompanied by an illustration (shown here) of two boys building a plane. The boys face each other and occupy the center of the scene. The image, however, also includes a little girl who plays with an airplane as well. She appears in the margins, and her role is clearly secondary, but she is featured nonetheless. Thus, the play world included both boys and girls. As a result, Schoenhuts were able to market their airplanes to all children, thus expanding their customer base.
To maximize their audience, the Schoenhuts marketed not only to boys and girls, but to parents as well. Ultimately, Schoenhut toys centered the family, and advertising copy throughout decades emphasized the ways in which parents benefitted from purchasing toys for their children’s play and education. In the 1928 catalogue, the company laid out their view of retail success: “to have a Mother or Father come into their Toy Store, and say they want to but a Set of Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty Circus Toys for their children.”
When Albert Schoenhut died on February 3, 1912, just two days short of his sixty-third birthday, his company was profiting handsomely from the newly introduced “All Wood Perfection Art Doll.” After Schoenhut died, his sons took over the family business. They were well prepared, having worked and trained at the firm for years. Reflecting on Albert’s upbringing and on the manner in which he eventually raised his own children, Susan Manos noted:
Albert Schoenhut left a Germany that was feudal by demand and nature in its outlook and discipline. Because of his early training and background, he too demanded respect and no questions from his children. His organization was run as tightly as a smoothly operated military machine and each son entered the business at posts designated by their father. He was the patriarch, the ruler, the head of the family and business.
The year of Schoenhut’s death coincided with the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the firm, an occasion that was duly celebrated by his sons. In the anniversary catalogue, the second generation of Schoenhuts announced proudly, “The largest toy factory in the world is in the city of Philadelphia—The House of Schoenhut. Not only is it the largest, but also the one which has set a new record for the world in originality and quality of product.”
In the years immediately following Schoenhut’s death, the company continued to grow and flourish. In 1914, the Schoenhuts expanded and relocated to 2465 Sepviva Street. That year, the firm reached peak production. The outbreak of World War I, however, forced the company to scale back and streamline its production process. But unlike the countless German-American firms that suffered from anti-German discrimination during the war years (especially after the United States joined the war effort in 1917), the Schoenhut company fared relatively well between 1914 and 1919. In some respects, the company may have even benefitted from the war, insofar as it limited European imports.
On the whole, the geo-political conflict dovetailed nicely with the efforts of the second generation of Schoenhuts to brand the company as American. Their efforts, it would appear, were supported by the local press, which published flattering articles about the company. A 1914 news item from the Philadelphia Evening Ledger, for instance, introduced Schoenhut dolls under the subheading: “Fine American-made dolls.” The author wrote: “Perhaps the finest American-made dolls on the market are made by A. Schoenhut Company, of Philadelphia. They are made of all wood and can do most everything but talk. They can stand, sit, assume the poses of the most modern dances, play football and at least talk with their hands.” The journalist added further context by referencing the war and the former prominence of German toy makers and exporters.
In general, after the Schoenhut sons took over, they sought to expand markets, and one strategy was creating closer ties to educational institutions. With the help of teachers and school administrators, the Schoenhut Company introduced a line of “Concentration and Manipulative Toys for the Nursery and Kindergarten.” The “concentration” toys were designed and tested by E. Jensen of Merrill Palmer School, Detroit, and the Oak Lane County Day School, Philadelphia, while the “manipulative” toys were designed by E. Armstrong of the Merrill Palmer School, Detroit. A company advertisement for the toys featured an endorsement from Murza Mann Lauder, who announced: “These toys were introduced, tested, and approved by ‘TESTED TOYS,’ Detroit, Michigan.” Among the edifying playthings featured in the advertisement were objects resembling building blocks and games from Friedrich Fröbel’s original kindergarten practice: peg boards, nested trays and nested boxes, design matchers, and other objects specifically designed to enhance motor skills and aesthetic sensibility. The Schoenhut catalogue from 1930 featured an endorsement from a teacher and introduced the company factory as “The Largest Plant in the World Devoted Exclusively to the Manufacture of Toys and Articles for the Education and Happiness of Children.”
In 1926, the company moved to 2304 East Hagert Street; it also acquired additional property at East Hagert and East Boston Streets. But business started to slow in the 1920s and the company had to take steps to reduce costs. Over the years, the Schoenhuts had built their reputation on workmanship and innovation. In the end, as historian Gary Cross concludes, “The company may well have been a victim of its quality.” The remarkable durability of Schoenhut products – from toy pianos to dolls – meant that they lasted for years and rarely needed to be replaced. In terms of quality and longevity, these products certainly lived up to Schoenhut company advertisements, and while this surely benefitted the firm’s reputation, it may have also damaged its bottom line by effectively eliminating the need for repeat purchases. High quality toys also entailed relatively high production and purchase prices, and this, too, became problematic as the American economy slowed. To cut production costs and make their products more affordable to consumers in the increasingly difficult 1920s, the company was forced to replace the the steel springs in its “All Wood Perfection Art Doll” with elastic bands; likewise, it had to replace the glass eyes in its Humpty Dumpty Circus figures with painted ones.
These changes helped the company stay afloat in the 1920s, but they could not ward off the effects of the Great Depression. “The list,” writes Richard O’Brien, “of toy companies killed by the Depression is almost endless.” With declining sales and increased overhead, the A. Schoenhut Company faced bankruptcy. On January 17, 1934, the company officially entered into 77-B bankruptcy proceedings. On December 30, 1935, the company was ordered to liquidate its assets and pay its creditors. Despite efforts to diversity and seek new markets (the Schoenhuts, for instance, had began to manufacture children’s furniture in the early 1930s), the family business could not be sustained beyond the third generation. At the time, the firm was led by Fred C. Schoenhut, the son of founder Albert Schoenhut’s oldest son, Albert Frederick. According to the transcript of the second bankruptcy hearing, which was held in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (No. 18421) on April 23, 1935, Fred C. Schoenhut testified to the financial state of the A. Schoenhut Company. The operating record and trend of sales indicated that the company had shown losses over the preceding six years in the amount of approximately $60,000 annually (roughly $983,000 in 2011). Between 1934 and 1935, sales dropped by more than fifty percent.
At the outset of the hearings, the Schoenhuts’ attorney, Harry J. Alker, Jr., informed bankruptcy referee John M. Hill that the company had applied for a substantial loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), a U.S. government agency that made emergency loans to banks and businesses from 1932 to 1957.  Alker explained that the approval of this loan, upon which the Schoenhuts appeared to be counting, would allow the company to reorganize and repay its debts. As the proceedings unfolded, however, it became increasingly clear that the RFC was planning to reject the application. First and foremost, the RFC feared that the company did not have sufficient security to support such a large sum. In a letter outlining the RFC’s final decision to reject the application, Robert J. Kiesling (Exhibit No. 1) explained that the loan would not “insure the continued successful operation of the business.”
In his testimony, Fred C. Schoenhut defended the company’s practices and stated that it was “going after the right kind of business.” He was perhaps referring to the line of “Kiddie Furniture” that the Schoenhuts previously hailed as a “New Big Seller for 1930.” As the proceedings continued, however, the creditors’ attorneys began to criticize certain aspects of the family business model that had served the Schoenhuts well up to that point: at issue, for instance, were the vague job descriptions of the numerous family members on the company payroll and executive salaries that were viewed as overly generous. The family and the company were also criticized for their failure to implement “enforcing economies” in the period after they applied for the RFC loan. As Rudolph M. Hirschwald, the lead attorney for the creditors, said on record to Fred C. Schoenhut: “Well, aren’t you, in plain language—in plain language during the past few months you have been eating yourselves up?” In response, Fred C. explained that everyone on staff had been “working on toys and new features.” Furthermore, family lawyer Harry Alker clarified that the Schoenhuts on the payroll were “only executives in name” and that they actually worked out in the factory.
In the end, the A. Schoenhut Company was forced to sell its assets at auction in order to pay its creditors. The trustees’ sale announcement indicated that the company’s assets included trade names, patent rights, stock, machinery, equipment, and the woodworking plant. On February 26-27, 1936, an auction took place at the company plant and office at 2154-66 East Hagert Street. On February 28, 1936, there was another auction at 2217 East Hagert Street and at 2158-60 East Boston Street. On February 29, 1936, it was “ordered and decreed that the sale in Piecemeal lots of the property described in the within petition, for the sum of $33,036.16 (roughly $541,000 in 2011) [ . . . ] is hereby approved and confirmed, and the Trustees are hereby authorized to deliver the said property to the purchasers thereof upon payment of the sum of $33,036.16.” The order was signed by John M. Hill, Referee in Bankruptcy.
After some of the buildings failed to sell, Otto Schoenhut (the founder’s youngest son) and George Schoenhut (the founder’s grandson) approached the receivers of the A. Schoenhut Company and asked if they could use some of the space in the East Hagert factory to establish a new business. Their request was granted. Otto met with investors as well as representatives of the Pinn Family Doll Company. In 1935, Otto and George Schoenhut founded the O. Schoenhut Company, which began manufacturing Pinn Family Dolls. Thus, they were able to carry on the family tradition of toy production in Philadelphia. George eventually left the O. Schoenhut Company in 1947, at which point, Otto’s son-in-law, Robert Zimmer, took over the management. As a result, the company stayed in the Schoenhut family until in the 1970s.
After Frank Trinca purchased the company in 1984, he also followed the family model and invited his brother and sister-in-law to become partners. In 1996, Len and Renee Trinca became the owners, and, in 2000, they moved the enterprise to St. Augustine, Florida. Under the Trincas’ management, the company, now called the Schoenhut Piano Company, has returned to its roots and embraced the toy piano, the product upon which the original firm and its reputation was based. The company website, for instance, replicates Schoenhut’s 1872 logo in the original font and features the slogan: “Leader of the World in Toy Pianos Since 1872.” The Trincas’ approach has proven successful: the company has won numerous awards, including one honoring their “re-release” of the original Schoenhut toy piano. In 2007, the company won a “Milestone Award” for 135 years of service “in the music products industry.”
Albert Schoenhut’s early career as a toy maker in America was entirely based on his background and training in Germany. Indeed, he was recruited by Wanamaker’s precisely because he had expertise in the manufacture and repair of German toy pianos. When Schoenhut first established his business in Philadelphia in 1872, virtually all of the toy pianos available in the United States were imported from Germany. By drawing on his German roots, particularly Germany’s historical reputation for quality and innovation in toy making, handicrafts, and musical instrument production, Schoenhut built up an American company that eventually help correct – albeit modestly – the import-export imbalance between Germany and America in toy manufacturing.
In 1912, the same year as Albert Schoenhut’s death, the company celebrated its fortieth anniversary. In a catalogue published on that occasion, Schoenhut’s sons boasted that their father’s business was “making and selling toys and dolls to the children of Germany, who seek high class playthings just as eagerly as those of our own country. The old idea that all toys are originated in Germany has long been refuted.” “The House of Schoenhut,” they continued:
is not only shipping toys to Germany, but to all parts of Great Britain, Continental Europe, Australia, South America and other parts of the world where German toys were once supreme. American ingenuity and resourcefulness have joined with the German hereditary instinct of toy making to produce the most wonderful toys the world has ever known.
In this passage, the Schoenhuts acknowledged Germany’s historical supremacy in the empire of play, while gesturing toward their own German roots (e.g. “the German hereditary instinct”). At the same time, they cast themselves as American upstarts who were offering up a challenge to the industries of Old Europe. Interestingly, and paradoxically, they did this while introducing themselves as “the House of Schoenhut,” a name that conjures up images of European royalty. But despite this nod to European tradition, it was clear that the Schoenhuts, as a commercial and familial dynasty, were engaging in a new kind of American entrepreneurship.
This passage illustrates the complicated manner in which the Schoenhuts cast their enterprise as both German (and, by extension, European) and American. But it is interesting for other reasons as well. First, the authors staked an economic claim to an export market once dominated by Germany, and they did so in language that echoed current immigration and colonization strategies. Second, they stressed the business as a collective, as the work of a family and an intercultural one at that.
In 1914, two years after celebrating its fortieth anniversary, the A. Schoenhut Company reached peak production. Historian Gary Cross attributes the firm’s success and reputation to an ethnically-driven marketing strategy: “Schoenhut drew on the snob appeal of its German lineage while also bragging of its American inventiveness.” Cross’ assessment is certainly borne out by the tone of the anniversary catalogue, which presented the company as the embodiment of the best of two national traditions. But in the following years, particularly the war years, the company tailored its message and portrayed itself as more American than German. In 1918, a year after America entered the war against Germany, the Schoenhuts ran an advertisement that stated “Schoenhut Toys. Made in the U.S.A. since 1872.” A similar advertisement from 1919 read “Schoenhut Toys. American Ingenuity and Invention.”
During the war, the Schoenhuts presented themselves not only as an American firm but as one that supported the U. S. war effort. In the June 4, 1918, issue of the Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia), A. Schoenhut & Sons was listed in the War Chest Honor Role announcement in the 90 percent category. The laudatory prose read: “Every giver who has done his or her utmost should be on the War Chest Honor Role. Space will not permit the publication of the full list, and therefore the Committee has decided to confine the record in the public press to the industries whose employes [sic] have reached the splendid standard of 90% or more.” Later that year, the same newspaper announced that one “Carl Schoenhut of 2355 East Cumberland Street” was among those to receive army commissions (here the rank of second lieutenant, ordnance enlisted). Carl, also known as Frederick Carl (or Fred C.), was president of the family firm during the 1935 bankruptcy proceedings. Furthermore, there is evidence that the A. Schoenhut Company participated in the Philadelphia Army Ordnance: the toymaker appeared as a “Munitions Manufacture” in a 1921 book about the mobilization of industry during World War I. The company name was listed in an alphabetical roster of prime and subcontractors of ordnance material in the Philadelphia district.
After the Armistice, the Schoenhuts continued to emphasize their national and even local allegiance. During the company’s forty-eighth anniversary celebration in 1920, the Schoenhuts led with location: “Made in Philadelphia.” The German-American background that had figured so importantly in the 1912 anniversary catalogue was nowhere to be found; instead, emphasis was placed on the Schoenhuts’ Philadelphia home turf. Marketing materials for that year unfolded under the banner of the local. The shift in strategy was no doubt prompted by an intervening World War in which Germany fought on the opposite side of the United States. When the war ended in 1919, the trade competition between Europe and the United States in toy production resumed. The following year, a Schoenhut advertisement boasted that the Humpty Dumpty Circus was “acknowledged in all parts of the World as the greatest PLAYTHING ever invented.” A company that had once celebrated its German roots now took pride in its status as the largest American exporter of toys to Germany.
In the 1890s, Philadelphia was home to approximately 160,000 first-generation German immigrants and their descendants, who together comprised fifteen percent of the city’s total population. As prominent members of Philadelphia’s large German-American community, the Schoenhuts participated in many German associations. One group in which the family took a particularly active role was the Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein, which was founded in 1873 to celebrate German customs and raise money for charity. In 1898, a local newspaper article described the society’s leading objectives: “The celebration of the Cannstatter Volksfest and of festivals of similar character, the promotion of familiar converse among the members, the preservation of distinctive German sociability, the fostering of works for the common good and the exercise of charity towards all.”
Albert Schoenhut was elected president of the Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein in 1897, the same year that a statue of German poet Friedrich von Schiller was donated to the city and erected in Fairmount Park. Schoenhut wore the mantle of office well: in his role as president, he was responsible for addressing large crowds of attendees at the society’s numerous public events. In September 1897, for instance, Schoenhut delivered the opening remarks at the Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein’s annual Harvest Festival, which was held in Philadelphia’s Washington Park. According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, he had just returned “from the Fatherland.” Although, as the paper noted, it was “his maiden effort as their president,” he extended “in eloquent terms a most cordial welcome to all the visitors, who certainly numbered no less than 18,000 people.” Schoenhut, the article continued, was “glad to say the festival was already assured as great a success as had already attended the twenty-three preceding it and he hoped they would realize a handsome sum for charitable distribution.”
Schoenhut was still president when the society celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary the following year. News coverage of the group’s festive Silver Jubilee indicated that, over its twenty-five-year history, the Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein had raised $66,802 and had donated this sizable sum to approximately twenty charitable organizations. (The sum of $66,802 in 1898 is equivalent to approximately $1,870,000 in 2011.) It was reported that the German-Americans who attended the anniversary celebration “disported themselves with unreserved freedom and that innocent hilarity characteristic of their nationality.”
Albert Schoenhut also belonged to Humboldt Lodge No. 359, the second oldest German-speaking Masonic Lodge in Philadelphia. Additionally, he served as chairman of the Building Committee of the German Theatre, which was located at the intersection of Franklin Street and Girard Avenue. In 1905, the theater’s cornerstone was laid as part of a large event that emphasized both German heritage and American citizenship: a large chorus sang Wilhelm Speidel’s “Im Walde” [“In the Forest”] and an orchestra played the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The building, which was designed by architect Carl Berger, a second-generation German-American, apparently cost $220,000 (or approximately $5,800,000 in 2011).
Albert Schoenhut’s public image was shaped not only by his participation in local charitable and cultural organizations, but also by his political activities within – and on behalf of – Philadelphia’s German-American community. His leadership role in German-American associations kept him in the public eye and assured him a quasi-diplomatic role in various high-profile events. For instance, he was among those German-Americans selected to greet Kaiser Wilhelm’s brother, Crown Prince Heinrich of Prussia, during the latter’s goodwill tour of the United States in 1902.
It is also likely that Schoenhut’s efforts to garner honor for his German-American compatriots contributed to the Kaiser’s decision to confer, in 1904, the Order of the Red Eagle fourth class on Dr. C. J. Hexamer, an influential German-American who served as president of both the German Society of Pennsylvania and the German-American National Union. In addition to his representative or ambassadorial functions within the German-American community, Schoenhut also supported practical political organizing: in 1905, he was a signatory to an open appeal whereby the City Party sought to consolidate Philadelphia’s 45,000 German-American voters into a single co-operative alliance. Schoenhut’s name was second only to that of Arno Leonhard, one of the founders of the German-American Central Alliance and the vice president of that organization for many years. Ultimately, Schoenhut’s efforts on behalf of his fellow German-Americans brought personal accolades as well. For instance, on February 5, 1911, Schoenhut’s sixty-second birthday, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a picture of the toy maker along with the following message: “The Inquirer congratulates a well-known manufacturer upon his birthday anniversary.”
At the turn of the twentieth century, the toy making industry in the United States was experiencing phenomenal growth. In 1909, the total value of all toys produced in America was $8,264,000 – more than double that of ten years earlier. Industry experts regarded the A. Schoenhut Company as a key contributor to that trend. At the time, Schoenhut was one of the few American toy manufacturers that sold its products all over the United States and abroad. In 1899, the company participated in the National Export Exposition in Philadelphia, where it mounted a handsome of display of its toy pianos, dolls, and other products.
Company founder Albert Schoenhut’s family background as a third-generation German toy maker and his early training as a manufacturer of toys and toy pianos in Württemberg played a significant role in the success of his American enterprise, particularly early on. After all, the toy piano, the product upon which his company was originally based, was a German creation whose roots extend back to Dessau in 1792. After settling in the United States, Albert Schoenhut drew on family and national traditions in the establishment of his own business. Over time, German craftsmanship was joined by American innovation, and his enterprise flourished.
The realism that exerted such strong hold on German culture in the late nineteenth century informed the strategies of the A. Schoenhut Company, which sought to satisfy its young customers by producing toys that were “true to life.” The emphasis on realism, which started with the toy piano, eventually extended to other toys as well. Ironically, Schoenhut’s preoccupation with realism, which could be interpreted as culturally German, was seen by some, not least his own sons, as contributing to the Americanization of play. Schoenhut’s realism, for instance, led him to produce soldiers’ costumes in blue, which represented an innovation in the United States. Before Schoenhut’s time, as his sons explained, “When a youngster dressed himself in a foreign-made soldier suit, he didn’t look like an American boy in blue. Likely the suit wasn’t blue, but red.” They continued, “Mr. Schoenhut changed all this. He made it possible for the youngsters to play at soldier, policeman, etc., in costumes that looked the part.” According to this reading, it was Schoenhut who first helped American boys dress up in an American national context. Likewise, other Schoenhut products, such as “Teddy’s Adventures in Africa,” an enormously popular fifty-three piece set dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, created a context in which American history and German toy-making skills coincided.
In the company’s fortieth anniversary catalogue (1912), which appeared just after Albert Schoenhut’s death, his sons described the firm’s contributions to American national posterity:
Other men create the national policies, build the railroads, revise the currency and carry on enterprises that make for the health and comfort of the people, but it remains for the craftsmen of playthings to furnish the world in which the children live, move and have their being. In this work we have tried to do our part and we take pleasure in saying that our friends of the trade likewise have done their part in helping us.
While their claims did not quite stake out an empire, they modestly implied a place of importance in the national infrastructure. The Schoenhut family, with Albert at the helm, created a context in which the American nation, and its children, organized the play world. In the process, the Schoenhuts emerged as artisans of play, custodians of pedagogy, and in some ways, technicians of citizenship. The Schoenhut sons remained committed to the production of toys long after their father’s death. Production peaked in 1914, and the company performed well during the war years before declining in the difficult 1920s. Unfortunately, the family business model could not withstand the Depression of the 1930s. In 1935, the company entered into Section 77-B bankruptcy proceedings. This was followed by reorganization and the founding of a successor company, the O. Schoenhut Company, which was headed by Otto and George Schoenhut, representatives of the second and third generation, respectively.
The O. Schoenhut Company produced toys throughout much of the twentieth century, with the toy piano as its centerpiece. The company remained in family hands until 1984, at which point it was purchased by Frank Trinca. It is now managed by members of his family. The Trincas have preserved the Schoenhut family name (in fact, the company logo is “Schoenhut, Mark well the name”) and have been good stewards of the company and its legacy. Today, the company is still the leading producer of toy pianos in the world.
 A reference to Schoenhut’s Philadelphia neighborhood. See Julia M. Klein, “A Look at Intricate Old Toys and a Venerable Phila. Firm,” posted April 18, 1995.
 Susan Manos, Schoenhut Dolls & Toys: A Loving Legacy (Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1976), 11-13.
 See Germany Emigration Index: Record number 598680, Ancestry.com. Accessed August 8, 2014. See also U.S. Passport Application Records, 1795-1925, Ancestry.com. Accessed August 8, 2014. On February 5, 1911, the Philadelphia Inquirer congratulated the toy manufacturer on the celebration of his birthday. For this and other reasons, the present biography accepts February 5, 1849, as Schoenhut’s birthday.
 “Göppingens Aufstieg zum Spielzeug-Zentrum.“
 See http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=87164468. See also Manos, Schoenhut Dolls & Toys, 9, and “Upright Piano, c. 1900,” Strong National Museum of Play. Accessed May 5, 2015. Another account places his first job at John Deiser & Sons in Philadelphia. See Richard O’Brien, The Story of American Toys: From the Puritans to the Present (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990), 73.
 One document from the Superior Court of New York County lists October 1, 1868, as the date of naturalization, while another source, from the Quarter Session Court of Philadelphia, records the date September 25, 1873. Ancestry.com. Accessed August 26, 2013.
 Gopsill’s Philadelphia City Directory for 1875 (Philadelphia: James Gopsill, 1875), 1328.
 U.S. Commissioner of Patents, Annual Report, Jan. 1, 1893, vol. no. 3066, 422.
 O’Brien provides further evidence of the toy industry’s growth by referencing the publication of the monthly magazine Playthings (1903). Schoenhut ran advertisements in the second edition. See O’Brien, The Story of American Toys, 53.
 Gary Cross, Kids’ Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 37.
 Address listed in the 1900 Philadelphia City Directory, p. 2028.
 Evelyn Ackerman, Under the Big Top with Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty Circus (Annapolis, MD: Gold Horse Publishing, 1996), 3.
 See O’Brien, The Story of American Toys, 74. The $100 sum is equivalent to approximately $2,700 in 2011. All current values (in 2011 USD) are based on Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” MeasuringWorth, 2011, using the Consumer Price Index.
 Ackerman, Under the Big Top with Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty Circus, 3.
 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, https://hsp.org/blogs/question-of-the-week/philadelphia-toy-manufacturer-a-schoenhut-created-a-popular-play-set-based-on-what-classic-nursery-r. Accessed May 6, 2015.
 “No. 19 Dreadnaught Battleship Builder, play set, c. 1900,” Strong National Museum of Play. Accessed May 6, 2015.
 “At Schoenhut’s Toy Humpty Dumpty Circus,” under the title “Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty Circus Toys,” Schoenhut Company, 1928, 3.
 See Carmen A. Weber, Irving Kosmin, and Muriel Kirkpatrick, Workshop of the World (Wallingford, PA: Oliver Evans Press, 1990). Accessed August 25, 2013. Their article cites the following source: Philip Scranton and Walter Licht, Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890-1950 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), 79-83.
 Schoenhut’s emphasis on innovation and technical supremacy is evidenced by the numerous patents that he acquired over the years. To name but a few, in 1901, Schoenhut patented three items: a spring air-gun, a boat, and a ladder [U.S. Commissioner of Patents, Annual Report, Jan. 29, 1902, vol. no. 4232, 374]. In 1903, he obtained a patent for a musical instrument (Jan. 13, 1903) [U.S. Commissioner of Patents, Annual Report, Friday, Jan. 1, 1904, vol. no. 4607, 449]. In 1907, he patented the “Knockdown toy structure,” while his son William obtained his own patent for a categorical “toy” [U.S. Commissioner of Patents, Annual Report, Friday, Jan. 1, 1908, vol. no. 5311, 489]. Other patents followed in 1909 to 1911, under the non-descript category of “toy” (1909-10) and “jointed figure” (1911).
 Cross, Kids’ Stuff, 40.
 Ibid., 39.
 Manos, Schoenhut Dolls & Toys, 10.
 Ibid., 66.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 11.
 The A. Schoenhut Company (i.e. Albert F. Schoenhut, Theodore C. Schoenhut, Harry E. Schoenhut, Otto F. Schoenhut, William G. Schoenhut, and Gustav A. Schoenhut), Forty Years of Toy Making, 1872-1912 (Philadelphia: A. Schoenhut Company, 1912), 18.
 Ibid., 9. Realism, both as a literary and artistic mode of representation, dominated the nineteenth-century aesthetic. The novels of Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, and Theodor Fontane segued into the technical advances in photography and film. Theorists from Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, and, more recently, Fredric Jameson and Jean Baudrillard have alerted us to the truth and fiction of realism as an articulation of objectivity.
 Ibid., 9. Emphasis in the original.
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid., 11.
,”At Schoenhut’s Toy Humpty Dumpty Circus,” trade catalogue (1928), 31. This image is reproduced in other catalogues and trade sheets as well.
 Ibid., 2.
 See Manos, Schoenhut Dolls & Toys, 9.
 “Toys, Yes, Plenty of Them, To Make Merry Christmas,” Evening Ledger (Philadelphia), November 23, 1914, 3. It is worth noting that an adjacent article appeared under the headline “Pittsburgh Steel Expert Trailed by German Spies.”
 See “Schoenhut’s Concentration and Manipulative Toys for the Nursery and Kindergarten,” cover copy, no date, but the author of the statement, Murza Mann Lauder, was born in 1899, and, according to the Michigan Alumnus (1984), died in 1983.
 “Schoenhut’s Illustrated Catalogue” (1930), 42.
 See Cross, Kids’ Stuff, 42.
 O’Brien, The Story of American Toys, 129.
 Section 77-B of the Bankruptcy Act pertained to the reorganization of corporations. For more on this, see the Columbia Law Review, vol. XXXIV, no. 7, from November 1934.
 “In the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In the Matter of the A. Schoenhut, Co. Debtor,” case no. 18421 (1935), 44. John M. Hill, Esquire, served as the Special Master. Harry J. Alker, Jr., represented the A. Schoenhut Company and Rudolph M. Hirschwald, Esquire, along with E. Waring Wilson, represented various creditors.
 Ibid., 67.
 Fred C. Schoenhut had applied for a loan of $300,000 (approximately $4.91 million in 2011).
 “In the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In the Matter of the A. Schoenhut, Co. Debtor,” case no. 18421 (1935), 66.
 See “A New Big Seller For 1930,” 1. The furniture, which included clown seats designed to be “Sturdy and almost Indestructible” also achieved the following: “[It] Makes a Child Sit Erect Enhancing Health and Correct Posture,” 3.
 “In the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In the Matter of the A. Schoenhut, Co. Debtor,” case no. 18421 (1935), 73. See also Philip Scranton, “Learing Manufacture: Education and Shop-Floor Schooling in the Family Firm,” Family Business Review, vol. 5, no 3 (Fall 1992): 323-42, especially p. 341, note 26. Referring to the Bankruptcy Files, Scranton noted: “Seven Schoenhuts were on the payroll when their firm collapsed in 1934.”
 “In the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In the Matter of the A. Schoenhut, Co. Debtor,” case no. 18421 (1935), 76.
 Manos, Schoenhut Dolls & Toys, 13.
 At about the same time, Fred C. Schoenhut helped found a separate company, Schoenhut Manufacturing, which specialized in toy pianos and model railroads. The venture was relatively short-lived, filing for bankruptcy in 1941. See Manos, Schoenhut Dolls & Toys, 13-15.
 Manos, Schoenhut Dolls & Toys, 13-15.
Forty Years of Toy Making, 1872-1912, 5-6.
 Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia), June 4, 1918, 9.
 Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia), October 29, 1918, night extra edition.
 See William Bradford Williams, Munitions Manufacture in the Philadelphia Ordnance District: History of the Manufacture of Explosives for the World War (Philadelphia: A. Pomerantz & Co., 1921). The following entry was included in the alphabetical listing of munitions manufacturers (not prime contractors): “a. A. Schoenhut Co., Philadelphia, Pa. A. F. Schoenhut, Pres. O. F. Schoenhut V. G. Schoenhut H. E. Schoenhut G. A. Schoenhut, Treas.,” p. 220.
 Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Advertisement in the Campbell Collection, v. 26: 197.
 “Germans Have A Grand Festival. Cannstatter Volksfest Verein begins Its Big Silver Jubilee,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 1898, 3. Attendance was estimated at 20,000 to 25,000.
 “Jolly Germans’ Harvest Festival. Canstatter Volksfest Verein Opens Its Celebration at Washington Park,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 7, 1897, 3.
 “Germans Have A Grand Festival,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 1898.
 Built in 1905, the German Theatre later became known as the Astor. American and Yiddish plays were eventually performed there before it was converted into a cinema. The building itself was razed in 1989. See “Astor Theatre.” Accessed August 5, 2014.
 “Germans Hail New Theatre: Corner-Stone of Playhouse for Teutonic Productions Laid at Franklin and Girard Ave.,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 5, 1905, 4.
 “To Greet the Prince,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 16, 1902, 2.
 “Birthday Bulletin,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 5, 1911, 6.
 John J. Macfarlane, Manufacturing in Philadelphia, 1683-1912, with photographs of some of the leading industrial establishments (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Commercial Museum, 1912), 85. The sum of $8,264,000 in 1909 is equivalent to roughly $211 million in 2011.
 Eric Zwang Eriksson, “The Joy is in the Playing: Die Erfolgsstory des Toy Piano,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, vol. 160, no. 2 (March/April 1999): 21.
 Forty Years of Toy Making, 1872-1912, 10.
 Ibid., 23-24.
Cite this Entry
"Albert Frederick Schoenhut." (2020) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved February 28, 2020, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=248
Simpson, Patricia Anne. "Albert Frederick Schoenhut." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 3, edited by Giles R. Hoyt. German Historical Institute. Last modified August 31, 2015. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=248
"Albert Frederick Schoenhut," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2020, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 28 Feb 2020 <http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=248>
Portrait of Albert Schoenhut