This article is just about toy soldiers and for the sake of brevity ignores the sub-genres of modelling, collecting and action figures.
Toy soldiers have brought joy to kids since the time of the Pharaohs. Originally these toys were made from wood, stone or clay. The very wealthy could afford metals like tin or lead (or gold for the 1%).
They were historically crafted by hand, and it wasn’t until the late 18th century that toy soldiers were first mass-produced.
Companies like Mignot (France) and Heyde (Germany) were instrumental in this early mass production. But these lead, hand painted figures remained expensive and out of reach of most kids.
After WWII, when rationing ended, some companies started using plastic because it was cheaper and allowed children access to larger collections.
Concerns about lead poisoning in the 1960’s brought about new laws which banned the manufacture of toys containing lead. At this point the metal soldiers popularity declined, at least among parents of children.
Another blow to their popularity in the Western World was the “Peace & Love” generation of the 1970’s who took a negative view of war. Damn Hippies!
By the late 1980’s the toy soldier’s popularity was again on the rise thanks to the baby boomers, who remembered the toy soldier with fondness. After all: “Soldiers don’t kill, bullets do!”. Finally, the movie Toy Story (1995) announced the return of full social acceptance of toy soldiers in Western Culture with the presence of it’s army men characters.
The styles and trends have changed with time and location. But toy soldiers remain a standard stocking-stuffer for boys world-wide. Except in non-Christian countries, where, I am assuming, they have other appropriate gift-giving holidays? Or maybe they just play with real soldiers?