It was Christmas 1905 when Käthe Kruse´s daughter Maria, also called "Mimerle", asked for a doll as a Christmas present. She longed for a doll she could hug and cuddle and care for, a doll like a real baby. Her father, the famous sculptor Max Kruse, went to all Berlin´s stores in order to find such a doll, but all the dolls he saw were stiff, cold porcelain dolls. He thought that such dolls could never awaken motherly feelings in his daughter and so he told Käthe Kruse to design her own doll. She started with an exact idea in her mind: the doll should be warm, soft and also a little bit heavy to carry. She took a soft towel, filled it with sand and finally took a potato as a head. The first doll was born! Mimerle instantly fell in love with it, played with it and carried it around all day long. But after a few days the knots got loose, the sand came out and the potato developed a very unpleasing smell. Inspired by her daughter´s love for that first little doll, Käthe Kruse decided to develop her doll making skills and went on creating dolls for all her children. At that time, she never would have dreamt that this was the beginning of a world wide carreer!
Among friends it was soon well-known that there was a young mother in Berlin who was making play dolls for her children. In 1910, Käthe Kruse was asked to show her handmade creations in an exhibition of self-made toys in Berlin´s department store Tietz. Her charming dolls were an overwhelming success and Käthe Kruse became famous overnight. The press was full of praise for these loving creatures. The dolls were far from being something completely new, but the way they were made hit a nerve with the public. The dolls represented everything the new movement of progressive education stood for; the dolls didn´t look like little adults, they looked like children. They weren´t role models for children, but equal friends for the children. Adults loved the dolls for their naiveté and children could identify with them. A simple recipe for worldwide success!
It was a representative of New York´s famous FAO Schwarz who ordered the first 150 Käthe Kruse dolls. He had seen them in the exhibition and immediately contacted Käthe Kruse to place his order for FAO Schwarz. Käthe Kruse was still overwhelmed by her success at the exhibition and wasn´t prepared at all for receiving orders! She had made dolls for her children, but she didn´t have a workshop or a factory. Nevertheless, the idea of making these 150 doll appealed to her and she decided to hire a painter for the faces and some seamstresses to help her sew the bodies and clothes. After having worked night and day for some weeks, she was able to ship the dolls on time. These first dolls weren´t perfect, but the few minor problems could be solved easily and a second order for another 500 dolls for FAO that followed soon. Käthe Kruse realized that she couldn´t possibly produce that amount of dolls in her living room. So, she gave a production license for her dolls to a commercial doll manufacturer, but in the end decided to open her own factory in Bad Kösen. She also took part in some interntional doll exhibitions and won titles in Italy, Germany and Poland.
The factory in Bad Kösen started its production by making various of the dolls shown in the exhibition in Berlin. Later, when the dolls were given serial numbers, these dolls received the name "Doll I", a name that still exists today. In the first years, the factory was located in a small house at the Friedrichstraße. In 1923, it was moved to the former schoolhouse that is also at the Friedrichstraße. In Bad Kösen, Käthe Kruse produced several doll models, clothing and accessories. She successfully advertised her products in national and international magazines and placed them in shops throughout Europe and the USA. Among the most important dolls are the small 1916 "Dollhouse Dolls", the 1922 "Doll II - Schlenkerchen", the "Doll V - Träumerchen" and the 1925 "Doll VI - Du Mein". But the most successful Käthe Kruse doll still today is the famous "Doll VIII - The Faithful Child" of 1928. It was modeled after Käthe Kruse´s son Friedebald and was the first Käthe Kruse doll with a human hair wig.
The doll production in Bad Kösen flourished. Käthe Kruse was able to sell her dolls internationally and established them on the market by making use of several clever marketing measures, such as printing her own catalog, advertising in international magazines, giving interviews and sending out postcards with images of her dolls. She was present at all important toy fairs and her dolls had already won several prizes. Additionally, to taking care of her doll children, Käthe Kruse was a loving mother for her growing family. In 1921, she gave birth to her youngest son Max, the last one of her seven children: Maria, Sofie, Hanne, Michael, Jochen, Friedebald and Max.
Käthe Kruse fought the Bing Company in the most important copyright lawsuit in the history of the toy manufacturing industry. The big firm had started copying Käthe Kruse dolls on a large scale. Käthe Kruse did not only feel robbed of her intellectual work, she thought the industrially mass produced copies were especially ugly, soulless and without any character. With an entrepreneurial spirit, she had decided to produce dolls by hand and, by doing this, had set a new quality standard. Bing on the other hand, opted for mass production and was even bold enough to capitalize on Käthe Kruse´s good name by advertising their dolls as "Imitation of the Käthe Kruse Doll". Käthe Kruse and her lawyer took the case to court. At first instance Käthe Kruse won, but lost the following appeal. The lawsuit lasted until 1925, the year Käthe Kruse finally won the case. It was the first time that the artistic copyright protection was being extended to a toy, a case that set precedence for the future.
In 1928, Käthe Kruse received the following request: "Dear Mrs. Kruse, we are planning to do a special shop window for Mother´s Day but we don´t really like the mannequins we have. Could you help us by making your dolls big enough to dress them with children´s fashion? The mannequins should represent a three-year-old and a five-year-old." That was the beginning of the Käthe Kruse mannequin production. Käthe Kruse produced these mannequins by using a wire skeleton, several layers of fabric covered with tricot. Apart from children, Käthe Kruse soon started making adult mannequins as well. She made mannequins in all sizes with changeable heads and wigs. Her daughter Sofie played an important role in the mannequin production designing different dolls and heads. Käthe Kruse mannequins, just like Käthe Kruse dolls, were successful due to their natural look and liveliness. This aliveness was even enhanced by Käthe Kruse´s son Jochen, who took wonderful photographs of the mannequins. For his shootings he arranged the mannequins in little scenes, sometimes sporty, sometimes elegant, sometimes as a family and took pictures of them. The mannequin production was sold after production was moved to Donauwörth.
During the Second World War it became more and more difficult to keep up the doll production. The disastrous last months of the war in 1945 could also be felt at the doll factory. First the Americans arrived at Bad Kösen, then the Russians. In order to keep up the production, customers had to send in pieces of fabric to sew the doll´s clothes and cut off their own hair to make the wigs. In 1946, in order to maximize import and export possibilities, Käthe Kruse sent her sons Max and Michael to the Western Zones to open two branch operations. Max opened an operation in Bad Pyrmont where he managed the production of the "Child of Fortune", a small and inexpensive play doll. Michael moved parts of the production to Donauwörth. In 1950, when the Russians dispossessed Käthe Kruse´s beloved factory in Bad Kösen, the whole production was moved to Donauwörth. The factory in Bad Kösen was soon to be integrated into the Soviet system of nationally owned enterprises called VEBs. Some of the workers followed Käthe Kruse to the West, others stayed with their families in Bad Kösen. The factory went on producing dolls in the style of Käthe Kruse dolls until the 1960s. The new factory in Donauwörth was mostly the work of the Kruse children, Michael, Max and Hanne. Käthe Kruse slowly withdrew from everyday operations due to her age.
From 1946 to 1953 Käthe Kruse´s son Michael supervised the new factory in Donauwörth. Then, the professional physician moved to South Africa where he worked and lived in Pretoria. Max Kruse, who had operated the branch in Bad Pyrmont from 1946 to 1949, managed the factory in Donauwörth until 1958. At that time, he passed the management to his sister Hanne and her husband Heinz Adler in order to pursue a successful career as a writer. He is well known for his children´s book series "Flying Lion" and "Urmel from the Ice Age". Hanne Adler-Kruse was responsible for the creative decisions while her husband managed the finances. By 1957, Hanne Kruse had created her first doll, the Däumlinchen, which became a great success at Nuremberg Toy Fair. All Hanne´s doll creations were advertised as "Model by Hanne Kruse".
In the mid-60s Hanne Kruse took the decisive step to enlarge the doll production by making toys for babies and toddlers. At that time, the doll market was dangerously stagnant. Consumers preferred buying cheaper products from overseas. With her terry cloth dolls and animals Hanne Kruse won a new consumer group and thus, saved the company. Among her soft and colorful terry cloth products were animals, play balls and a new doll family called "The Timmermans". Some of these cloth products are still made today! Hanne and Heinz Adler managed the factory until 1990.
While in her eighties, Hanne Kruse decided to hand over the factory to a new generation. Since all her children were grown-up and had their own careers and families, she couldn´t find a suitor from within the family. Hanne and Heinz Adler soon found the perfect successors in Andrea and Stephen Christenson. As a child, Andrea Christenson played with Käthe Kruse dolls and dreamt of owning the wonderful doll factory one day. Early on, her life developed in a different direction and she forgot about her dream - until 1990 - when she had the opportunity to take over the traditional Käthe Kruse Company. Sticking to Käthe Kruse´s philosophy of handcraft and quality, the new owners have managed the factory according to their motto: "With the tradition in our hearts, we move to the future". Today, the brand Käthe Kruse stands for exclusive, handmade dolls and baby toys. Käthe Kruse represents innovative toys and traditional handcraft for children and doll lovers of all ages - premium products for all generations.
The first doll was created in 1905. Just like this first doll had conquered the heart of Käthe Kruse´s daughter Maria, the Käthe Kruse dolls of today conquer the hearts of generations of people all over the world. In a wonderful coffee table book "Käthe Kruse - 100 Years - It´s Unbelievable" (only available in German) we show the history of the Käthe Kruse doll in numerous artful photographs of the factory and of our dolls.
This year Käthe Kruse would have celebrated her 125th birthday. With her heart full of joy she would have seen, that the work of her lifetime - her wonderful dolls - still conquer the hearts of young and old. To celebrate her birthday, we present the Käthe Kruse milestones in a special limited edition: Doll I "Henriette", Dolls VIII "Friedebald and Ilsebill" and "Rumpumpel".
In 1911 Käthe Kruse started making her beautiful hand made dolls for sale in her appartment in Berlin. The first order came from an American toy shop and Käthe Kruse employed a painter and several sewers to help her. Käthe Kruse wrote about that time in her autobiography: "No chair, no table, no window was left free. There were dolls everywhere. Doll legs, doll arms and doll torsos. There were knitted dresses, crocheted dresses, finished and unfinished dresses and there were sewing patterns. I had to sort the dolls and count the dolls. There were inspected dolls and rejected dolls. Home workers came and went. They came to collect material and to deliver finished work. I was surrounded by delivery men and the telephone did not stop ringing for a
single moment." Back to overview
2013: Hape acquires Käthe Kruse
In the beginning of the year of 2013, Hape Holding AG (Hape) announced that it has added the Käthe Kruse Production and Distribution to its platform of children’s products.
Hape is known as one of the world’s largest producers of toys made of ecologically sustainable materials. This collaboration joins together two toy industry leaders and is therefore a perfect fit for both companies, creating endless opportunities for play and development around the world.
„I feel a responsibility to carry this heritage forward“, says Hape`s founder and CEO Peter Handstein.
2013: We celebrate Käthe Kruse's 130th birthday
On september 17th 2013 we celebrated the 130th birthday of our company’s founder, the “mother of dolls", Käthe
Kruse, the truly most innovative doll producer and creator of the last century.
More than 500 people from all over Europe and the world came together to celebrate this special occasion with us.
We organized an open day in our workshops in Donauwörth, featuring visits of our factory and demonstrations of how an exclusive doll is developed and produced.
We were happy to be able to welcome a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter of Käthe Kruse to celebrate with
us. On the occasion of this special event, we designed and created an exclusive doll ("Käthchen") after the model of
Käthe Kruse herself in a limited edition.