Kewpie dolls and figurines are based on comic strip-like illustrations by Rose O'Neill that appeared in Ladies Home Journal in 1909. The small dolls were extremely popular in the early 1900s. They were first produced in Ohrdruf, a small town in Germany, then famous for its toy-manufacturers. They were made out of bisque and then celluloid. In 1949, Effanbee created the first hard plastic versions.
Their name, often shortened to "Kewpies", is derived from 'Cupid,' the Roman god of beauty and non-platonic love. The time capsule at the 1939 New York World's Fair contained a Kewpie doll. The term "Kewpie doll" is sometimes mistakenly applied to the troll doll.
Many other articles were made using their images, for example, coloring and poem books, cups, plates, curios, etc. The incredible success of these characters made their creator rich and famous. It's a rare example of a woman becoming successful in the media business at such an early date. Kewpies should not be confused with the baby-like Billiken figures that debuted in 1908.
This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Kewpie Doll. For more information on the history of the Kewpie Doll and Rose O'Neill please visit The Official Site of Rose O'Neill and Bonniebrook Museum.