Archaeologists working in Akron, Ohio, claim to have found the world's oldest three-dimensional representation of Santa Claus.
Known as the "Blue Santa," the object was made circa 1884 by The American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company, which burned to the ground in 1904. The figurine is 2.5 inches tall.
Project leader Brian Graham said, "It's a wishing Santa. You hold it in your hand and wish for the present you want for Christmas."
Graham suspected such treasures existed at the company's location, now known as the "Lock 3 Park" archaeological site. The former federal government archaeologist gained permission from the City of Akron to dig at what he calls "the original North Pole," due to all of the toys that were once made there.
"This was the birthplace of the modern toy industry," said Michael Cohill, director of the American Toy Marble Museum.
Aside from the tiny Santa, The American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company also made the world's first mass-produced toys: clay marbles and penny toys.
"Marbles were made using a device patented by Samuel C. Dyke, founder of the company," Cohill explained. "It allowed one worker to make 800 to 1,000 clay marbles per hour, turned out at a rate of one million marbles a day, five box-car loads, six days a week."
"So significant was the economy of scale that one penny could buy a handful of marbles or dozens of different penny toys. The Blue Santa was a penny toy," he added while cradling the tiny object in his hand.
Before this Ohio company, toys for purchase were mostly expensive, hand-painted creations, available to only the wealthiest of children. Parents of less fortunate kids often just made toys at home for their kids. That's one reason why many collectible toys are handmade dollies and carved wooden objects.
But Dyke's production methods forever changed things. By 1888, he was nearly a millionaire, having created "the children's product market." Even kids themselves started to have purchase power, buying the inexpensive toys with their own pennies.
"From that point forward, all children could have a toy," Cohill said.
Local businessmen noted Dyke's success, and they too got involved in toy manufacturing. A whopping 31 additional marble factories were opened in the area. Akron at the time was also known as "the rubber capital of the world," so you can guess which toys soon became hits: balloons, rubber balls, rubber duckies, rubber dollies and even the tongue-twister inspiring rubber baby buggy bumpers.
At one point there were 160 local toy companies in Akron. Today it's still a "North Pole" contender, as the city is home to Little Tykes, Step Two and Maple City Rubber, which is still the world's largest maker of latex balloons.
If you'd like to see the Blue Santa, it's housed in a display case at The American Toy Marble Museum.