Albert Schoenhut was a third-generation German toymaker who came to Philadelphia at the age of 17 after a buyer from John Wanamaker recognized his talents.
While working for the department store, Schoenhut made advancements in the manufacture of toy pianos. The hammers in toy pianos used to strike a sounding bar made of glass, not strings as in traditional pianos. To improve durability and tone, Schoenhut replaced the glass with steel bars.
In 1872, Schoenhut left Wanamakers to produce toy pianos he made in a small store he opened on Frankford Avenue. He later expanded his product line to include other musical instruments, soldiers, dolls, boats, and a wooden toy set known as the "Humpty Dumpty Circus," which became his most popular product.
Named after a popular 19th-century play by George Washington Lafayette Fox, the circus initially included only the clown Humpty Dumpty, a barrel, a chair, and a ladder. Schoenhut added circus performers, including a ringmaster, acrobats, and a lion tamer, as well as several animals, to encourage sales. The circus was a hit not only locally, but also nationally and internationally, with exports to Europe, Australia, and South Africa.
Schoenhut's toys were popular, but considered an unaffordable luxury during the Depression. As sales dwindled, the company declared bankruptcy in 1935.