The Mailbag: A Post-War Thayer

A visitor writes:

I found this orphan at a yard sale. As you can tell, I’m drawn to things nobody else wants. All I know about it is it’s old and it’s cool. Can you tell me what period this is from, or anything else about it? When I Google Thayer I get surprisingly little information. I’m inclined to guess 30’s – 40’s?

Here’s the “orphan” in question:

Actually, this is a post-WWII stroller from the early 1950s. It’s possible that it may have been sold in the late 1940s, but this style is not typical of Thayers sold immediately after WWII.  Thayer offered quite a few models like this one during the 1950s; it was an era which marked the transition from large carriages/prams to the much leaner strollers of the 1960s.

As you discovered, there’s little information about the company.  Thayer began life in 1874 as the Erie Chair Company in Erie, Pennsylvania,  which became the Downing Carriage Company in 1882.  H. N. Thayer was a principle in the Downing Carriage Company, which manufactured rattan and reed “sleeping coaches” (we’d call them baby carriages — these would have been the ones people usually describe as “wicker”) along with a host of other baby gear items.

Downing existed at least through 1894, but by 1903 H. N. Thayer was manufacturing baby carriages in Erie under his own name at the site of the former Downing plant.  The H. N. Thayer Company made children’s toys and vehicles, including baby carriages, wagons, velocipedes, and pedal cars.

The Thayer company existed in the early 1920s, but I’ve found very little documentation for the period which covers the era between WWI and WWII.  By 1929, of course, the country was spiraling deeply into depression, when more than a few companies were struggling, and there were fewer and fewer consumers with discretionary funds to spend.  It’s likely that Thayer continued during this time, to the extent possible, to produce “wicker” baby coaches, along with the sulkies they made in the ‘teens, and metal and canvas “go-kart” type strollers.

At some point during this period, Thayer relocated to Gardner, Massachusetts, which had become a huge manufacturing hub and was the home of a burgeoning baby carriage industry.  Thayer was in Gardner by 1940, but it is likely that the plant was diverted to essential wartime manufacturing during 1942-1945; production of less-critical goods like baby strollers was severely curtailed during the war years.

Thayer came back with a roar post-WWII, first with deep-bodied baby buggies with flexible synthetic bodies and hoods, and then with basic steel strollers.  Thayer strollers of the 1940s typically had simple metal bodies or frames with a minimum of upholstery; it wasn’t until the late 1940s and into the 1950s that “convertible” strollers like yours appeared with full hoods and the more finished look that the new vinyl-like fabrics allowed.

In the 1950s, Thayer was one of the best-known makers of baby carriages and strollers in the eastern USA, offering, too, a full line of doll buggies made to look just like the “real” thing.  By 1957, though, Thayer had discontinued at least one line of doll strollers made like this Thayer, and by the early 1960s these large and heavy strollers, with their full hoods and metal footwells, were history.

I’ve been unable to locate any information about Thayer in the 1960s, nor any signs that Thayer ever made the lighter, smaller strollers that rapidly took over the market during that decade.  I  haven’t been able to determine if the company closed its doors, or if it was bought-out by a competitor — not an uncommon scenario.  In the mid-1970s the old Thayer complex in Gardner was acquired by Simplex (since acquired by Tyco International), and, certainly by then, Thayer was no more.

4 Responses to “The Mailbag: A Post-War Thayer”

  • I currently have 2 of these doll carriages in my possession. They were given to my sister and I as Christmas gifts in 1950. My dad took the original bodies apart as they were in very bad condition. He used the original body as a pattern to make new bodies for the carriages so that my daughter and my nieces could have the carriage. I am now getting ready to give mine to my great granddaughter and my sister will be giving hers to her granddaughter.

    • Suzanne, the buggy in this post is actually a full-sized baby carriage. How clever and resourceful of your dad to have re-built your doll buggies with new bodies! And what a treat for your great-granddaughter and your sister’s granddaughter!

  • I grew up in the 1950s, and these Thayer doll carriages were very common in my neighborhood. My favorite Thayer doll carriage was one that had fenders, a red plaid shade and a maroon colored foot well. The wooden panels were yellow with a brown rectangular pattern. This carriage was a work of art. I finally become the proud owner of a Thayer stroller in 1957 although this one was not as fancy. It looked very much like the stroller in the above attachment.

    I cring when I see the junk doll strollers of the 21st century. Nothing will ever compare with the beautiful baby and doll strollers of the 1950s. Little girls today will never know what is was like to be the proud owners of these gorgeous carriages.

    • Elinor, you are so right about the pleasures of owning such beautifully made and designed carriages. They were proudly made, so realistic, and nothing like the horrid throw-aways that are so common now. Thanks so much for your comment, and the reminder of a time when toys weren’t expected to become trash after minimal use.

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