- Hans Beck, the "Father" of the PLAYMOBIL Figures
Hans Beck, the "Father" of the PLAYMOBIL Figures
Hans Beck is born as the oldest son of a self-employed trader in Thuringia in 1929. He likes watching his younger siblings at play, and soon he takes up some tools to create toy animals and figures for them.
After his apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker he applies at the Zirndorf company of geobra Brandstätter for a position as a toy developer (then called "sample maker"). The company's owner, Mr. Horst Brandstätter, with a golden hand selects Mr. Beck from among a number of applicants. One of the main reasons for his decision is Mr. Beck's hobby - he is an avid designer, engineer and pilot of model aircrafts.
From there, Hans Beck designed innovative products for the company, many of which considerably contributed to the company's success. His masterpiece, however, was created in 1971. Horst Brandstätter wanted his chief designer to think of and develop a system toy. Brandstätter was thinking of a line of buildings and vehicles in which, in his opinion, figures could be placed as well. This guideline seemed too simplistic for Hans Beck. He instead was thinking of something completely new.
At first Beck developed a single figure to perfection: It was exactly 2.9 inches high, ideally proportioned for a child´s hand. It had – and still has - moving arms and legs, hands capable of gripping and holding objects, and a friendly face, which was especially important to Hans Beck. He then proceeded to make a number of like figures which differed only in their coloring and in several accessories added to each one. From the first creation, the figures have turned into construction workers, knights and Indians. He complemented this little line of toy figures with a car and a horse. He gave these models to children at every occasion possible; watching them at play to learn about the way children would play with his toy.
At that time, the company, which also manufactured large plastic items for daily use besides its traditional toy assortment, faced severe sales problems due to the oil crisis and increased costs of plastic. Thus Brandstätter wanted to release the figure series earlier than planned and asked Hans Beck to prepare a set of samples for the imminent 1974 Nuremberg Toy Fair. Hans Beck succeeded, even though the task seemed nearly impossible, and the toy figures, called PLAYMOBIL, were presented. With the exception of a Dutch customer, Otto Simon, buyers were hesitant; however, in the toy stores in fall 1974, parents and children had a different reaction. At the end of the year, geobra Brandstätter realized sales of 3 million marks with PLAYMOBIL, making up one-sixth of the company's total sales volume.
Four facts contributed to the ongoing PLAYMOBIL success story: The unique idea of Hans Beck, the requested production capacity available, the readiness to take risks on the part of the company owner and the need of the young consumers for a system toy which, for the first time ever, focused not on technical building elements but on figures.
Hans Beck and the quickly growing R & D department continued to design whole play worlds. They created buildings, additional vehicles and animals, all of them scaled and designed to fit in with the figures. The animals, designed by Hans Beck in a completely new style, especially attracted attention and praise
Children appreciated the great attention to detail paid to the creation of each play theme. This dedication to the brand is expressed in the many letters sent to PLAYMOBIL by children around the world every day. These young fans send their ideas and make suggestions, many of which are taken into consideration (save for violent themes, which is against the PLAYMOBIL toy philosophy).
Ever since its market introduction in 1974, Hans Beck has been PLAYMOBIL´s "Corporate Conscience". Mr. Beck retired in 1998 and then lived near Lake Constance in the Southern part of Germany, where he sadly passed away in January 2009 after a long illness only a few months before his 80th birthday. He is survived by his wife and a son. Hans Beck will live forever in his figures, and millions of adults and kids will remain grateful for his masterpiece: the PLAYMOBIL figure.