ABOVE LEFT: Employing a bit of clever cross-marketing. a young Billy Chapin poses with original version of Robert the Robot and his Tobor the Great co-star, Tobor, in this 1954 Republic Pictures publicity still. Robert unfortunately did not appear in the movie. ABOVE RIGHT: Robert tags along behind Tobor in another promotional photo also taken on studio back lot of Republic Pictures in California. In the photo Tobor holds Roberts controller gun. Although both robots first made their debuts in 1954, Robert's star would end up shining much brighter... and far longer than Tobor's. By 1959 Republic Pictures was out of business and the studio's entire library of work would remain in mothballs until the mid-1980s. The Tobor prop still survives today perfectly intact in a private collection.


ABOVE LEFT AND CENTER: Despite his Hollywood connections, Robert's ties to Sears, Roebuck, and Company in Chicago played a much bigger part in launching his career. The appearance of Ideal Toy Company's soon-to-be-superstar in Sears 1954 Christmas Book would be the first of several, Robert would be back for an encore in 1955 and again in 1956. The unique teardrop-shaped controller shown by Sears catalogs all three years was never a regular production feature of the toy. Sears would have had a pre-production sample of the toy in house no later than January or February of 1954 and the final design undoubtedly was changed by the time regular production was underway. This unique controller was also shown in the now legendary publicity photo that appeared in the December 1954 issue of Popular Science (Shown below). Interestingly Sears only shows two tools with the toy but a miniature wrench was also included with the first version of Robert. ABOVE RIGHT: The stylish green and terra cotta art deco inspired exterior of the Sears store in downtown Honolulu contrasts beautifully with the Hawaiian sky in this photo taken in sometime during 1954.


ABOVE: Spiegel also featured Robert in 1954 and matched Sears price of $5.69 which included a battery. Fascinating photo indicates that like Sears, Spiegel was also working with a very early pre-production sample. Note Robert's remote control, light bulb on/off switch, entire left hand and half of his right hand are made of white or some other very light colored plastic instead of red.


ABOVE: "An American Toy means Real Christmas Joy" was the theme for a thirteen page advertisement in the November 22, 1954, issue of Life magazine which included Ideal's Robert the Robot. Following the advertisement was an index showing retailers who carried all 104 items shown as part of the promotion. The artwork used for this ad shows a very unusual version of Robert which has a silver mouth, dark eyes, and a non-metallic cord. Other oddities include a base with rounded corners and a light switch which moves up and down instead of the usual knob.


ABOVE: The editors of Popular Science magazine were so taken with Robert he was included in the "What's New for Christmas" section in the December 1954 issue. The publicity photo used with the article has become legendary among Robert fans and is frequently misidentifed as having been taken in 1959. Note the non-standard teardrop shaped controller that was also depicted in the Sears 1954, 1955, and 1956 catalogs.


ABOVE LEFT: A set of three pot metal toy tools were included with early versions of Robert that cleverly were designed to tuck away neatly inside the robot's torso. ABOVE CENTER AND RIGHT: By 1955 the word was out that Ideal had a hit on their hands and Robert's list of catalogs expanded far beyond Sears and Spiegel to include prestigious toy seller FAO Schwarz. Although most retailers were selling a version of Robert without tools for 1955 the FAO Scwarz Catalog is clearly showing the original 1954 version of the toy with the tool compartment cap removed.


ABOVE: Cover of the 1955 Western Auto "Finest Christmas Gifts Ever" Catalog showcased a sampling of the wide array of products available for the whole family. Any item shown in the catalog but not available locally could be ordered for pick up at any Western Auto store.


ABOVE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Although the Western Auto 1955 catalog featured few space toys, Robert the Robot was given a fairly large amount of space and featured in full color. Rendering effectively and dramatically demonstrates Robert's lighted eyes. TOP RIGHT: Ideal's Dragnet Talking Police Car featured the same patented Talking Device as Robert and featured a picture of Jack Webb on the box. NBC's Dragnet which had debuted in 1951 had unintentionally become a big hit with kids. As top 10 rated show from 1952 through 1956 and also seen in syndication from 1953 on as Badge 714, the show received broad exposure and by 1955 a wide range of toys and games including the Ideal Car were available. BOTTOM RIGHT: In 1955 Western Auto Stores ran the gamut from gleaming new suburban locations to run-down rural outlets like this locally owned associate store in Georgia. Although unfortunately grainy and worn, a Robert the Robot can be clearly seen in the store's display window. Note the TOYLAND sign above. BOTTOM LEFT: For everything from cars to clothing to home furnishings, Charcoal Gray and Pink was the hot color story for 1955. This pricey Trutone Radio would have considered ultra stylish.


ABOVE: Western Auto carried an extensive variety of toy guns for 1955 but only one was a space toy, Remco's Electronic Space Gun. Introduced in 1953, the handsomely styled Space Gun featured a bright red plastic body and had already become a top seller. Later offered in a silver with red trim version, the Space Gun would be available well into the 1960s. 1953 Remco promotional materials describe the features of the Electronic Space Gun: "Here's a real out of this world electronic gun. Just aim through dual telescopic sights; pull trigger -- hear 'atomic' sound waves. High speed 'atom smasher' rotates. See powerful 'electronic' color beam. Adjust turret for choice of colors. Includes battery and bulb."


ABOVE: Robert the Robot was invited back for an encore and appeared once again in the Spiegel 1955 Christmas Catalog. Spiegel's price of $5.69 was unchanged from 1954 and this year again included a battery to power the light bulb inside Robert's head that illuminated his eyes and antenna.


ABOVE: Robert's lighted eyes were such a key feature that most retailers included the battery, at least in the early years. Light from the bulb inside the head also makes Robert's antenna glow.


ABOVE: Plastics were so crucial to Ideal products that in the early 1950s the plastics division was spun off into a separate company, Ideal Plastics Corporation. Working closely with chemical giant E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (Du Pont), Ideal's claims of indestructibility for many of their toys came from the use of Alathon, which was Du Ponts trademarked brand name for polyethylene plastic, the first plastic that was completely synthetic and not based on any structure which occured in nature. Also licensed under the trademark “Polyethylene” by Bakelite Corporation, this postwar miracle material invented in England was the first true thermo plastic which formed strong but flexible fibers when molded at high tempurature. Ideal blended as many as four plastics together to achieve each toy's desired performance, durability, and appearance. The Du Pont Alathon ad above showcases an Ideal Toy Corporation tea party set as "safe, attractive, and practically indestructible." Much of Ideal's expertise in plastics came from the company's wartime efforts with the company's key product during World War II being gas masks for the military. Ideal was also tapped by the U.S. government for the high-precision plastic parts used on some of the earliest atomic bombs.

ABOVE: This amusing Ideal Toy Company publicity photo shows a pair of employees in white lab coats testing the 1955 version of Robert the Robot. The four robots placed along the sidelines do not have controllers installed.



ABOVE: Priced a bit higher, Robert also made a 1956 appearance in the "America's Famous Toy Children Billy and Ruth" catalog. By the time the 1956 models were on sale, Robert's eyes and antenna had changed from separate transparent plastic pieces to stamped, molded in details in an effort to keep costs from rising. The heat was on for Ideal when Marx released Electric Robot and Son in 1955 with a fiercely competitive price. Many considered the Marx Robot a more deluxe toy because movement came via a battery-powered motor as opposed to Robert's mechanical operation. BELOW: Robert enjoyed a full-color appearance in The Toy Yearbook 1956-1957 edition. Annual pre-printed catalogs like Billy and Ruth (above) and The Toy Yearbook were used by a variety of independent retailers who could personalize the covers with their own store imprint. These affordable yet professional looking catalogs allowed small stores to compete with the large retailers without having to tie up inordinate amounts of capital on printing costs and the huge quantities of merchandise such a promotion would otherwise require.



ABOVE: Priced at $5.98, Robert was treated to a full color presentation in The Toy Yearbook that depicted multiple views of the toy in action. Illustration is slightly inaccurate and shows the red tool comparment cover that had only been used on the 1954 models. A black battery-operated version of Yoshia's Space Dog manufactured by KO was also featured in the 1956 Toy Yearbook priced at $4.98.



ABOVE: Cricket Records announced it's exclusive Toy Tunes Series at the 1956 New York Toy Fair. Heavily featured in the series were Fisher-Price and Ideal Toy Corporation products as well as the popular television series Lassie from CBS which was now in it's third season. Distributed exclusively through Cricket's parent company, Pickwick Sales Corporation of Brooklyn, several different packaging options were created. The deluxe set shown above consisted of four long playing 78s for $1.00. This set was featured as part of an American Toy Manufacturers Association promotion that appeared in Life Magazine in October and November of 1956 and was geared primarily towards mail order sales and record shops. BELOW: The colorfully packaged .25¢ long-playing 45 was available in the toy departments of discount and drug outlets. A long playing 10-inch 78 rpm version (not shown) that retailed for .49¢ was sold through specialty toy shops and better department stores.
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ABOVE: The lowest priced Robert the Robot record from Cricket's Toy Tunes Series was this colorfully packaged 45 marketed though drug and discount stores. Cricket products were heavily promoted on TV and radio and also appeared in October and November issues of Life magazine. Cricket Records were also available from nearly every major catalog retailer including Sears, Wards, Spiegel, Alden's, and John Plain. According to The Billboard magazine (the magazine we know today as Billboard) Cricket Records was the third top selling independent children's record label in 1956.
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ABOVE: The December 1957 issue of Coronet Magazine featured an exciting 10 page "Ideal Toy Corporation's Golden Age of Toys" advertising section showcasing Ideal's extensive lineup for toys for boys, girls, and even a page geared towards adults. The first eight pages in full color presents hotselling dolls like Betsey Wetsey, Shirley Temple, and Ideal's popular line of high fashion Revlon dolls for girls, action toys for boys like the Sky Sweeper Truck with searchlight and missles and the Flying Boxcar and Combat Team set which included soldiers, military vehicles, a minature rocket launcher, and a front-loading cargo plane. A two page dealer index in black and white followed the color section which listed stores that carried all the toys shown. BELOW: More of Ideal's offerings for boys including Robert the Robot.

ABOVE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: TOP LEFT: Although now in his fourth season Robert the Robot still had plenty of momentum left. The third and final version of the toy had been simplified to keep prices steady and help fend off the competition from Marx's Electric Robot. CENTER RIGHT: Starlite Fix-It Car had a see-thru body, working headlights and taillights, and could be taken apart and reassembled over and over. ABOVE: Futuristic Satellite Launcher sends colorful flying saucers into space.

ABOVE: Still clanking along in 1960, one of Robert's rare catalog appearances during his last year on the market was in Continental's mail order catalog priced at $5.98. Robert was hastened into retirement to make way for Ideal's Mr. Machine and Robot Commando which would both also go on to become top sellers with long careers.

ABOVE: Robert speaks courtesy of U.S. Patent No. 2,890,887, a Talking Device designed and assembled by California-based Ted Duncan, Incorporated. Ted Duncan manufactured two styles of the device and held the exclusive patent rights from 1954 through 1959. Although Duncan, a competing toy manufacturer, released toys under their own brand name as well, the bulk of the company's fortunes in the 1950s came primarily from selling their talking device to other companies such as Ideal and Remco. The Duncan Talking Device was first shown at the 1954 New York Toy Fair and was quickly rushed into production on toys from a wide variety of manufacturers including several by Ideal. Robert's ability to talk was one of the key features of the toy and was showcased prominently on the box art. The inset at bottom right shows the inside of Duncan Device that had been installed on a Robert the Robot. Simple but effective, sound was captured by the small tone arm as the record was turned via the hand crank on the back of the toy. By 1957 it was estimated that the Duncan Talking Device had been installed in over 4 million toys. BELOW: A small sampling of the countless Ideal Toy Company toys which used the patented Duncan Talking Device. The Patty Prays doll for girls (not shown) featured the Duncan Talking Device and also became a hot-seller for Ideal.