Helen M. Schelle wasn't included in Fisher-Price's famous brand name, but she was equally responsible for the company's founding and instrumental in its survival, historians say.
The owner of a Binghamton-based toy store, Miss Schelle was recruited by Herman G. Fisher and Irving R. Price to help them launch a new company. She brought to the partnership valuable retail experience and many contacts within the toy industry, historians say.
Long before it was commonplace for women to hold important positions in corporate America, Miss Schelle was helping guide Fisher-Price.
"She was a woman ahead of her time; a maverick," said Bruce R. Fox, co-author of "Fisher-Price 1931-1963: A Historical, Rarity, Value Guide."
Herman Fisher's son, John B. Fisher, said his father had great respect for Miss Schelle and felt she had helped the company in many ways. "She was involved with Fisher-Price from the very beginning," he said.
Herman Fisher once called Miss Schelle his "right-hand person." He also credited her with helping launch the company in the early 1930s. "Without her, I doubt we would have succeeded as quickly as we did," he said.
When Fisher-Price started in October 1930, Miss Schelle was appointed the company's first secretary and treasurer. She was responsible for the firm's bookkeeping and financial activities like the sale of stock. She also spent time supervising the plant's operations.
Cannot distribute vertically "She was a good businesswoman," said Joe Steinwachs, a Fisher-Price employee from 1936 to 1981.
He recalled the time when Herman Fisher complained to Miss Schelle that he only had a few dollars in his pocket after treating several workers to drinks at a local bar. Instead of reimbursing Fisher, she took his remaining $3 and put them back into the company's treasury.
Miss Schelle collaborated with Margaret Evans Price, an illustrator of children's books and wife of company financier Irving Price, to create the first toy line, Fox said. Her connections with toy industry insiders also helped assure Fisher-Price would get a favorable reception when it debuted at the 1931 American International Toy Fair, he added.
Very little is known about Miss Schelle's early life except that she was born in 1893 and managed the Penny Walker Toy Store in Binghamton. She also had an avid interest in horses, said Fox, whose history book is available from Fisher-Price.
After 27 years with the East Aurora company, Miss Schelle retired in 1957 and moved to Piqua, Ohio. The last survivor of the toy manufacturer's founders, she died in April 1984 at age 91.