In the 1940s and ‘50s, the now iconic Western cowboy captured the hearts and minds of children across the United States. There were movies, TV shows and memorabilia that helped shape the image and popularity of the “Wild West.” Capitalizing on this new trend was Hartland Plastics CO who began to manufacture cowboy figurines in 1953.
The early toys produced by Hartland were about 9” tall and included the Lone Ranger, Tonto, Roy Rogers and Bullet. Back then these toys could be purchased for around $1.98, but today they are expensive, prized collectors’ items. The most sought after cowboy figurines today were the least popular models originally, with a total production of around 5,000 making them incredibly rare.
In the 1950s Hartland created dozens of horse-and-rider sets in the image of TV and film Western heroes. Annie Oakley, Roy Rogers and Wyatt Earp were just a few of the popular line of figurines. These highly detailed cowboy sets came with all kinds of great detachable accessories as well. You can still find guns, hats, ropes, saddles and flags to go with each of the characters. Some figures even had special accessories, like the Josh Randall toy whose mare's leg held his rifle and Custer who had his saber. And let’s not forget those beautiful horses. It is widely believed that Hartland created the very first Breyer horse, which is still produced today. In the mid-1950s Hartland created a beautiful palomino horse that they called the “perfect reproduction” and it is truly stunning. Today, one of the most prized horse-rider combinations is the Roy Rogers and Trigger set.
The end of the trail for Hartland Western products came in the 1960s. The old cowboy image had begun to lose its appeal as kids became more interested in space-themed toys and monsters. Hartland turned its attention to the growing popularity of sports figurines at this time, essentially leaving the Old West in the dust. Although the idea of the Wild West cowboy is not as popular with children as it once was, it still continues to tickle the imagination of every generation. Whether it was your first figurine you received for Christmas as a child or your favorite Western TV show growing up that started the fascination with the West, you know that the iconic western cowboy will continue to hold a special place in everyone’s heart.