Gender equality has reached the world of toy soldiers.
BMC Toys Inc. of Scranton, Pa., will have plastic toys of "green army women" — not men — available in time for the 2020 holiday season. BMC President Jeff Imel first proposed the idea in June 2018 after receiving numerous requests from collectors.
But the idea really took off in early August when a 6-year-old girl named Vivian sent him a letter asking: "Why do you not make girl army men? My friend's mom is in the army, too!"
The general concept of the army women, Imel wrote Aug. 9 on the firm's website, is "a set of female combat toy soldier figures in the style of the plastic army men from World War II/Cold War era that would blend in with existing figures from a variety of manufacturers and look like what the average person thinks of as 'little green army men' that just happen to be women."
Imel added that initial response to the idea "was very positive and indicated this concept is generally on the right track." He also said at the time that "the next steps for this project are to commission more detailed drawings and choose a sculptor to create a single prototype figure sculpt."
Once the idea received more media coverage, BMC picked up the pace. Imel wrote Aug. 30 that after being contacted by CBS News for a possible story, he "figured I'd better get the project moving along … so I commissioned more art, requested rush quotes from my factory partners and even hired a sculptor to create a prototype."
The CBS story aired on Aug. 30. Earlier that day, Imel said that "all the media attention, increase in the newsletter subscribers and positive support in general have led me decide to definitely produce a set of Plastic Army Women."
He added that BMC has a budget in place that will allow for at least four different poses and will be offered in a pack of about 24 figures. Imel also said that the initial idea for the project in June 2018 came after he received an email from JoAnn Ortloff, a retired Fleet Master Chief with the U.S. Navy.
She was looking for female toy soldiers for her granddaughters, and, according to Imel, "made a compelling case for why Plastic Army Women should be produced."
Most recently, Imel on Sept. 8 said that Canadian sculptor James Van Schaik has done a prototype figure. Imel added that Van Schaik "did such an amazing job with the concept, and the feedback was so positive, that the project is progressing to the next stage."
For BMC, the next stage includes making a rubber mold and casting a handful of resin figures. Van Schaik already has made some minor refinements requested by BMC. Imel said that the firm now plans to have a resin model on display at the Chicago Toy Soldier Show on Sept. 22.
BMC was founded in 1991 by Bill McMaster, a former purchasing agent for Toys R Us. The firm "began producing original historically themed plastic soldier playsets shortly thereafter … inspired by the classic playsets of the 1950s and 1960s," according to the company website. McMaster "created a bridge to the 21st century for the plastic soldier hobby," the site said.
After McMaster's unexpected death in 2014, BMC became part of VictoryBuy Inc., a Scranton-based e-commerce firm that had helped to distribute BMC's products. BMC's lineup includes its Classic Army Men Collection of toy soldier figures and accessories made using vintage toy molds from some of the most iconic U.S. toymakers of the 20th century, including The Louis Marx Co., Payton and MPC.
On Sept. 8, Imel wrote that he would continue to refine the army women designs as the project develops in the coming weeks. "I'm trying to create something that will connect with people, and I'm guided by the thinking that every kid wants to be the hero of their own story," he said.