How a Child’s Heartfelt Letter Inspired a Toy Company to Make Army Women FiguresOct 2, 2019
Little green plastic army men have been a staple in just about any child’s toy box since the 1930s. While America has been through numerous conflicts over that period, the most popular figures are still the guys in the traditional, olive-green World War II uniforms.
These indestructible, immoveable two-inch tall figurines are permanently posed in their iconic positions — carrying rifles, staring down the battlefield through binoculars or barking orders into walkie talkies.
One of the reasons they’re so popular is that they’re cheap. A bag of 24 of these little guys only costs mom or dad about $12 and they last forever.
Unless, of course, they’re set on fire or become a dog’s chew toy.
“Little green army men cost a pittance to make,” the Toy Hall of Fame Website says.
“Kids lose their green figures in do-or-die battles with toy dinosaurs, space men and model railroads. Or they stage battles with lifelike explosives using the caps from their cap pistols or purloined firecrackers from holiday celebrations.”
There have been a lot of changes in the military since kids started playing with these little green troopers decades ago. One of the biggest is that women are now allowed to participate in combat.
So where are the little green army women?
Vivian, a 6-year old from the Little Rock, Arkansas area, stuck a big win for inclusivity by writing a letter to BMC Toys asking why they don’t manufacture female troops.
“My name is Vivian. I play soccer. I am six years old. Why don’y you make girl army men, my friend’s mom is in the army too!! So why don’t you make them too!!!!! I saw the pink ones but those aren’t girls and people in the army don’t like pink so please can you make army girls that look like women. I would play with them every day and my friends would too! Thank you, Vivian.”
“It was a heartfelt letter,” Jeff Imel president of BMC Toys told NPR.
“And it reminded me of being a kid and always wanting that toy that you couldn’t get in the gumball machine,” he said. “So I really looked into it.”
After the letter, the Scranton, Pennsylvania-based manufacturer got to work designing female troops to add to their iconic set of brave green men and they should be ready for battle in 2020. But adding women to the line does take some investment.
“I have to pay the sculptor. I have to pay the tooling. I have to make a down payment on production,” he said. “If it’s coming from China, it’s on a boat for five weeks.”
“By the time you figure out the cost of everything involved in making an original set of plastic toy figures in this size,” he said. “It starts around the cost of a modest new car.”
It may set the company back financially, but Imel believes that customer demand for the new solders will make up for the expenditure.
Imel sees the new female troops as a way to help young girls dream big.
“Every kid wants to be the hero of their story,” he said. “It shouldn’t be up to us to decide who the hero is. Girls should be able to connect to the toys just as much as boys do.”
Photo credit: Taytay DiGong, BMC Toys.