Baby Nancy, which debuted in the U.S. in 1968, was the “was the inaugural doll for Shindana Toys, a California company launched in 1968 by Operation Bootstrap Inc.” and was created to “reflect Black pride, Black talent, and most of all, Black enterprise,” the Toy Hall of Fame noted.
In 1968, Shindana Toys, dedicated to making toys that “reflect Black pride, Black talent, and most of all, Black enterprise,” produced Baby Nancy—now a 2020 National Toy Hall of Fame inductee! #toyhall2020 pic.twitter.com/OBw455Q3t2— The Strong Museum (@museumofplay) November 5, 2020
According to the AP:
By Thanksgiving, Baby Nancy was the bestselling Black doll in Los Angeles, and before Christmas, she was selling nationwide. The toy exposed a long-standing demand for ethnically correct Black dolls, according to the National Toy Hall of Fame, located in The Strong museum in Rochester, New York.
Shindana Toys folded amid financial problems in 1983, but Baby Nancy “still stands as a landmark doll that made commercial and cultural breakthoughs,” curator Michelle Parnett-Dwyer said in a news release.
In 2019, the Los Angeles Times wrote that a Shindana employee once “proudly explained, Baby Nancy ‘is not a white doll with Black skin…She is an authentically beautiful Black doll.’”
The LA Times added:
Nancy’s hard vinyl body was brown, like other dolls aimed at her market niche, but her nose, mouth and facial structure were designed to be what some industry observers had started to call “ethnically correct.” And she was the first doll marketed as “Black.”
Given the toy industry’s history of racist imagery, a white manufacturer touting its dolls’ “typical” ethnic or racial characteristics would likely have drawn suspicion. But Shindana’s staff felt fully authorized to make such pronouncements. With a few exceptions, the company’s employees—in the front office, in research and design and on the factory floor—were Black. In some of its ads, the company played up the racial composition of the workforce, implying that only black toy makers had the cultural know-how to make a truly Black doll.
The two other final Toy Hall of Fame inductees, Parker Brother’s Jenga and Crayola’s Sidewalk Chalk, were chosen from 12 finalists which included bingo, Breyer Horses, Lite-Brite, Masters of the Universe, My Little Pony, Risk, Sorry!, Tamagotchi and Yahtzee, noted the AP.