The Buddy Lee dolls were originally produced from 1920 to 1960 by the H.D. Lee Company Inc. or popularly known as the garment maker, Lee Jeans. The Buddy Lee doll was manufactured for the purpose of advertising the company’s clothing. The idea was the brainchild of Chester Reynolds who was the sales manager of the company at that time. He later became the president of the board for the company.
Reynolds took inspiration of using the dolls as miniature models for their clothes. The dolls measured 12.5 inches tall. Budd Lee dolls made between 1920 and 1948 were made of composition while those that were made between 1949 and 1962 were made of hard plastic and measured 13 inches tall. The first 12.5 composition type doll was displayed in Lee’s Dayton store in Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall. Markings on these dolls were found on their back which says “Buddy Lee”.
The dolls had molded painted hair and painted side glancing eyes. Its mouth was also closed, had long painted upper eyelashes, and painted black boots. The doll bodies were jointed at the shoulders and the dolls wore uniforms and clothing of various professions. These doll garments were all made by Lee and some examples for these were the red and white stripes Coca Cola uniform, gas station staff outfit, football player jersey, John Deree getup, Phillips 66, Jiffy Steam Co., US Army Finance Corps. Cowboy, and the train engineer uniform. All of these original Lee garments have the Lee tag label on them.
A female version of Buddy Lee named Betty Lee also came up around the time of its popularity. However, a doll historian for the Lee Jeans made a clarification that these composition or hard plastic Betty Lee dolls were not associated to the company at all. These were found to be carnival dolls made by Columbia Doll and Toy Company during the 1920’s to 1931 and were distributed by either Gem Toy Co. or Sears. These chubby kid body dolls were unmarked although these had a close resemblance to the Buddy Lee dolls.
Lee Jeans permitted the dolls to be sold by shops for retail after its purpose for display was done. But in 1962, the production of Buddy Lee was discontinued due since it was not profitable anymore. However, the advertising agency of Fallon McElligott resurrected the doll in 1998 for Lee’s Dungarees clothing line. It also revived Lee’s 1940 tagline “Can’t Bust ‘Em”. Since then, the Buddy Lee was used in several other ad campaigns onto the year 2008 with its presidential ad campaign.
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