National Bobblehead Day: History of the bobblehead

Today is National Bobblehead Day in the USA. On Twitter there is an overload with photos of a big variety of bobbleheads. But is the bobblehead something of these days or does the history goes back further?

Nowadays the bobblehead is mainly known in the baseball world but the funny figurines are also produced for other American sports like basketball and football. But was this always the case? No. The first bobbleheads appeared in China. But they did not have the shape and the size of today’s bobbleheads. Those from China were about five feet tall and had a more natural look with a more proportional head. These figures became popular in Europe to where they were exported in the 1760s and 1770s.
The nodding-head figures were imported in England, Europe and the United States in the 1780s from Canton in the 1870s.
The interest in these figures in England was spurred by the Prince of Wales, who was a trend setter.

Bobbleheads in literature

Russian writer Nicolai Gogol first refered to a bobblehead in 1842 in his book The Overcoat. He described the main character, Akaky, as having a neck, which was, “like the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads.

The New York Knicks bobblehead is believed to be the first sports bobblehead in the 1920s. Multiple sources confirm this but there is one major but to this story. The New York Knicks were only established in 1946. The national bobblehead hall of fame is still investigation this mystery.

In the 1950s the modern bobbleheads appeared in baseball, made from paper-mache. In 1960 MLB had discovered the bobblehead and made one for each team. All with the same cherubine head. In 1960 the ceramic bobblehead was introduced.
During the 1960 World Series, the first player-specific bobbleheads showed up. Bobbleheads with the name of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Roberto Clemente on it. But still these bobbleheads had the same head.

But the popularity of the bobblehad grew, also outside sports. It even became this popular that the Beatles had their own bobblehead. Nowaydays the set of four is still a wanted collectors item.
The Beatles

From the 1970s the interest for bobbleheads deteriorated as the attentino shifted to lunch boxes, action figures and video games.

But in the 1990s the bobblehead made a comeback as they were made of plastic and thus much easier to produce than those made of ceramic. The 1994 Birmingham Barons (AA Southern League) handed out a special Michael Jordan bobblehead during a game. The San IMG_9913Francisco Giants was the first MLB club to give away a bobblehead during a game. In 1999 they offered 35,000 Willie Mays bobbleheads. Nowadays clubs give away several bobbleheads per season as they are wanted collectibles.

Next to sports bobbleheads there is a broad variety of bobbleheads of movie characters, politicians and other famous persons.

After the decline of the interest for bobbleheads, who would have thought that the bobblehead would make such a come back.


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