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Playmobil was invented by German inventor Hans Beck (1929–2009), considered the "Father of Playmobil". Beck received training as a cabinetmaker and was also an avid hobbyist of model airplanes, a product he pitched to the company Geobra Brandstätter. Horst Brandstätter, the owner of the company, asked Beck to develop toy figures for children instead.
Beck spent three years from 1971 to 1974 developing what became Playmobil. Beck conducted research that allowed him to develop a toy that would not be too complex but would nevertheless be flexible. He felt that too much flexibility would get in the way of children's imaginations, and too much rigidity would cause frustration. The toy he conceived would fit in a child's hand and its facial design was based on children's drawings: a large head, a big smile, and no nose. "I would put the little figures in their hands without saying anything about what they were," Beck remarked. "They accepted them right away ... They invented little scenarios for them. They never grew tired of playing with them.".
The 1973 oil crisis made it possible for Playmobil to be considered a viable product. The rising oil prices imposed on Geobra Brandstätter, for whom Beck worked as head of development, demanded that the company turn to products that required less solid plastic material than the hula hoops and other large plastic items the company had been producing as toys.
In 1974, the company put the first sets of knights, Native Americans, and construction workers on show in its display rooms. By 2021, approximately 3 billion Playmobil figures had been sold.