Museum logo
Museum logo

Object Record

  • Email This Page
  • Send Feedback
Catalog Number 13244-257-(1-9)
Title Doll, Tiny Terri, Blue and White Checked Dress
Object Name Doll
Description Tiny Terri doll with brown hair (probably polymer fiber or saran). The hair is in pigtails that are tied at the ends with white satin bows. The hair at the end of the pigtails and at the bangs is heavily curled. There are two painted eyelashes at the center of the right eye and three painted at the center of the left. The doll has "sleeping eyes" with real eyelashes (made of a thicker hair?). The eyes appear to be brown, but they are stuck half-closed. Her lips and nostrils are painted red. Her cheeks and knees are also light pink, but the color is slightly faded.

She is wearing a blue and white checked cotton "school dress" with white trim at the dropped waist, sleeves and collar. There are three square metal snaps along the back of the dress. The bottom of the dress is bunched and is mechine-sewn along the hem. There is an embroidered Terri Lee tag on the inside of the dress. She has white knit socks and black plastic side-snap shoes. She also has white panties (rayon?) with lace trim around the legs.

The bottom of each shoe is labeled "FAIRYLAND TOY PRCD. NO.00 MADE IN U.S.A."
The panties have a white tag that is labeled "Made in HONG KONG" in red ink.
Year Range from 1955
Year Range to 1962
Material saran or polymer fiber wig, plastic, textiles (cotton and probably rayon),
Place of Origin USA: California, Apple Valley
Inscription Text Terri Lee
Height (in) 10.315
Length (in) 4.016
Width (in) 3.583
History Tiny Terri Lee was introduced by the Terri Lee doll company in 1955.

The Terri Lee doll company was founded in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1946. The business started as a partnership between Maxine Runci, a sculptor and painter, and her aunt, Violet Gradwohl. Maxine modeled the doll after her toddler aged daughter, Drienne, and the doll was named after Violet's daughter, who was called "Terri Lee." Their relationship deteriorated early in the company's history, and Violet eventually took over the business. The first dolls were produced in the Gradwohl's Lincoln kitchen, and then in space rented at the Nebraska State Building at 116 South 15th Street. Women were hired to work from their homes, making wigs and sewing doll clothing. The business grew quickly and by Christmas of 1946, the doll appeared in the Montgomery Ward's catalog.

The first dolls were made of "composition," made of ground up corncobs (Because of shortages in sawdust due to World War II). The hygroscopic nature of this material was problematic. Before the fall of 1947, the company was making dolls out of several types of experimental ethyl cellulose plastics. These early plastic dolls were painted with a flesh colored varnish. By 1950, the dolls were made of a tinted plastic called Tenite II, eliminating the need for painting the dolls' bodies.

A large part of the doll's appeal was her large, elaborate wardrobe. Terri Lee's clothing was similar to clothing worn by real little girls and it was made to withstand washing and ironing. High quality fabrics and lace, satin ribbons, and metal snaps were used. Terri Lee had pajamas, school dresses, formal wear, and even a Girl Scout uniform.

As the company grew, the factory moved several times in Lincoln. By 1951, they had a factory space at 2012 O Street. Nearly 3,000 dolls were made per week and they had 190 employees. On December 15, 1951, however, a fire destroyed the factory, and i 1952, Violet decided to relocate the factory in Apple Valley, California. Business thrived, but by 1957 Violet was focusing more on other interests like Arabian horse breeding and racing. The finances of the business began to suffer. There was a large debt and the company also faced several law suits. On November 14, 1958 a fire occurred at the Apple Valley factory causing over $100,000 in damage. Violet's financial advisor, Marvin James Miller, was arrested, and convicted of arson. Although Violet was never charged, the prosecution contended that he had conspired with Violet to burn the factory because of the risk of foreclosure. Violet received no insurance money from the fire, and in 1960 she auctioned off the remaining buildings, equipment, and her ranch to help cover part of the company's debt. Later that year, she began working for Magna Enterprises and briefly attempted to produce dolls through them. The relationship did not last long. In 1961 she authorized the Mar-Fan Company to use molds to create Terri Lee, Connie Lynn (a larger baby doll) and Tiny Terri dolls. A new version of Terri Lee, "Talking Terri," was also produced. The relationship with Mar-Fan ended in 1962. Violet eventually moved to Virginia to be closer to her daughter, and she passed away there in 1972.

In 1999, the Knickerbocker Toy Co. cooperated with surviving members of Violet's family, who formed Terri Lee Associates LLC, to produce a Terri Lee doll to commemorate the 50th Anniversary. Terri Lee Associates has continued to produce a line of Terri Lee dolls into the 21st Century.

For more information on the history of Terri Lee, see "The Best-Dressed Doll in the World: Nebraska's Own Terri Lee" by Tina Koeppe, Nebraska History, Winter, 2012.
Credit line Marilyn McCoy Carney
Collection Carney, Marilyn McCoy