To mark last week's release of the new Trolls World Tour movie, Smithsonian's Michelle Delgado tells the origin story of Troll Dolls, from their birth following World War II their modern day big screen revival. The tale begins in Gjøl, Denmark, home to baker Thomas Dam (1915-1989) who could no longer work when the local flour factory went out of business. From Smithsonian:
Dam would sit near the fireplace, carving bits of wood while he thought. He often carved funny creatures to entertain his children, and eventually, his wife persuaded him to try selling the figurines. Dam packed up as many as he could carry and traveled to Aalborg, the nearest city, where he planned to knock on doors. He came home empty-handed, having successfully sold them all.
As Dam's figurines found fans in Aalborg, customers began commissioning bigger projects. Before long, Dam became a working sculptor whose reputation eventually exceeded Denmark's borders. In 1956, a Swedish department store hired him to create a large sculpture of Santa Claus, kicking off the chain of events that nudged Dam to fully embrace toy making.
When he finished installing the Santa Claus sculpture, Dam realized that it wasn't completely visible from the street. He proposed an accompanying window display with a clever design. First, he sculpted tiny figures of Christmas elves—designed in a similar style to his soon-to-be-famous troll dolls—and dismantled a mattress, hiding a spring in each figurine's body. Next, Dam built a display with a mechanism that lifted and dropped a long piece of wood. When the dolls were fixed to the wood, its gently undulating motion caused their springs to bounce. "[These trolls] were standing there waving, jumping up and down and their heads were rolling," recalled Niels Dam, Thomas Dam's son, in [Tim Walsh's book Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them .
"The Colorful History of the Troll Doll" (Smithsonian)