Thursday, February 18, 2010

MIBDH: The Shindana Story and One of Its Main Characters

The Shindana Story
Originally printed in the March/April 1990 issue of
Doll-E-Gram, published by Lavern E. Hall

Louis S. Smith - Photograph courtesy Louis S. Smith, III

"Shindana Toys, a division of Operation Bootstrap, Inc., stands alone as the largest black-owned and operated toy company in the world. It had its genesis in the rubble of the 1965 Watts revolt and it emerged in 1968 with a will to compete in the face of discouraging odds. A practical recognition of this spirit is reflected in the selection of the name “Shindana” – it means competitor in Swahili.

"Shindana was founded by Lou Smith and Robert Hall without government subsidy or aid. Substantial working capital, technical assistance and equipment were provided initially by Mattel, Inc., with no strings attached, as an expression of that company’s commitment to its social responsibility in the Los Angeles community.

"Once the operation got underway, Mattel began turning more and more responsibility over to Shindana personnel, under whose directions it would either succeed or fail. From the beginning, Shindana’s development bore the unmistakable imprint of Lou Smith’s leadership and insight, coupled with the hard work and determination of hundreds of people. It was this spirit of dedication that enabled Shindana to survive as a business whose goal was to help build the base of financial support for Operation Bootstrap.
Baby Nancy, Shindana's first doll

"In its first year, Shindana produced a single product – a Black doll named Baby Nancy, the first ethnically correct Black doll made in America. Baby Nancy was designed with truly “Negroid” features which were in contrast with the typical pattern of Caucasian dolls simply painted Black, and she was a success in the marketplace. Production of Baby Nancy dolls began in November 1968, and the combined efforts of Shindana and Mattel made it possible to manufacture and ship 8,000 dolls in time for the first Christmas season.

"In 1971, sales reached $1.5 million and the young company began to repay some of its financial obligation. Despite the loss of some of its key personnel, the company continued to produce products under the steadfast leadership of Lou Smith.

Shindana's First Fashion Doll, Career Girl Wanda from their 1975 Catalogue

Shindana's first Wanda (1972) wears a lime green micro-mini dress and matching shoes... check out the "shag" hairstyle.

"The company marked a line of 32 Black dolls and 6 Black-oriented games. Mr. Lou Smith is to be remembered, for his vision helped make the difference between success and failure. He never wavered from Shindana’s objectives of providing jobs with pride in the ghetto and showing people that they can help themselves, and that in the process they can learn to love those who may be different from themselves. He believed that “the only plan is the commitment.” Today the Shindana dolls are collector items.

"Mr. Smith and his young daughter were killed in an automobile accident in 1976 in California."

Doll-E-Gram’s Holiday Festival of Black Dolls’ “Shindana Award” [was] given annually in honor of Mr. Lou Smith. Doll-E-Gram is no longer in publication.

Shindana dolls from the collection of Karen Kilburn

While Shindana is well known for being the first US company to mass produce ethnically correct Black dolls, the company incorporated Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Native American dolls into their product lines before operations ceased in the early 1980s.

Links to Shindana Dolls and Articles:
9-1/2 inch Action Figure:  O J Simpson, Dr. J., Slade
1975 Toys R Us Ad featuring Jimmy "JJ" Walker Doll
Black Doll-E-Zine Article on Black Owned-Operated Toy Companies
Better Image of Slade
Ebony, December 1969 Article, "Black Dolls are Now Big Business"
Ebony, September 1971, Shindana ad
Ebony, November 1975 Article, "Toys That Build Pride"
Current eBay Shindana Doll Auctions
Closed eBay Shindana Doll Auctions



  1. I have the taller Disco Wanda doll. I love her smile. She looks as if she were at a disco and having a great time there :-D

    Thanks again!

    Oh, and I have that Asian baby - the one in the cotton mini dress with the yellow top and blue skirt. Third photo down, second row, third doll from the left. One of my rare baby dolls.

  2. Great articles Ddebbie!! These doll history blogs are so important to showing how we as a people were viewed culturally in America and how we have progressed from any negative images. I have Baby Nancy,Zuri,Asian Friends boy & girl. I treasure this piece of Black history memorabilia. I also have a Shindana catalog.

  3. I just love all of the historical information. I have especially fallen in love with Baby Nancy.

  4. D7Ana - I have the Native American and Hispanic Little Friends dolls by Shindana (the girls) as well as the African American girl. Disco Wanda will make an appearance in a blog this coming weekend.

    Bonnie - I'm so happy you're enjoying the MIBDH blogs. I have a wealth of information on Shindana dolls that Lou Smith's son has shared with me throughout the years. While I never met his dad, it seems as though I should have known him. We have a kindred spirit connection, I suppose. This is probably because he shared the views I developed on the importance of children having positive playthings that mirror their image.

    Hugs -- Baby Nancy (all versions: with afro, two ponytails with bangs, and two ponytails without bangs) are adorable. Her paper dolls are, too.


  5. I am looking to buy Shinana's "TAMU". Where can I find her. One Christmas I remember my mother giving me a choice out of a selection of hundreds of dolls. TAMU was my choice. I cherished her for years (my brothers hated how I carried her everywhere). Now I'm nearing the big "50" and I would love to find her.

  6. Tamu and other Shindana dolls show up from time to time on eBay's auction site ( You must be a registered eBay user to bid on auction items. Other than eBay, garage and/or estate sales, flea markets, and other secondary market sources are remote suggestions. By the way, Tamu means "sweet" in Swahili. Good luck in your search!

  7. This is so nice to see all this information on Shindana. My grandfather Robert Bobo was the President of Shindana. I am the Keshia Doll.I've been looking to purchase one for quite sometime and have not been able to find one. I wish I would have kept all of my dolls now lol. If you know of anyone that is selling a KeshiaDoll please let me know! Thanks so much and I wish my grandfather was still alive to see this blog he would be very proud to know that people still love, appreciate,and remember Shindana.

  8. Hi Keisha,

    Thanks for commenting on the Shindana blog. I own one of the Keisha dolls made by Shindana. You might try searching eBay from time to time to view their current Shindana Doll Listings. Since many sellers may only be able to identify the dolls as "Shindana" or Operation Bootstrap, a listing for Keisha may not be found, unless the doll is still in the original box. You may have to view the images of the dolls to determine if a current listing is Keisha. Good luck in your search. I would be happy to email a photo to you of my Keisha.


  9. I've recently gotten a "new" Shindana doll that I don't recognize. She's about 13" tall, drink/wet with sleep eyes. Hair is short, sort of a "straightened curl". I don't know how to describe her face, it's neither typical African nor more standard "pretty"--it's almost pixyish. She is dated on the neck, but the date is very hard to read--I think it's 1969, but could also be 1968.
    Does anyone have a good guess? I can send a photo, if you think you'd recognize her.

  10. Send a picture or a link to a picture, if possible.


  11. The Shindana story is so inspiring! Grass roots empowerment! I also love the Gay Bob doll of 1978 for the same reason :)

  12. I have a Baby Nacy in its original box and it has never been opened. Please email me at if anyone is interested.

  13. In looking at the photo of the
    Karen Kilburn's collection of
    "Shindana" dolls, I would like to
    know the name of the doll on the
    top shelve (furthest to the left)
    inside a yellow box. She appears to be Asian, although she could possibly be Hispanic or a lighter
    skinned AA doll. Does anyone have any information on this doll, as far as her name & nationality?
    Does anyone have a closer photo of this doll? Is she a Shindana? While I am quite familiar with Shindana dolls, I have never seen this one. She also appears to have a soft body, vinyl head, arms and legs, and rooted hair. How tall is this doll? Is she from a series of multi ethnic dolls, just as the "Little Friends Collection"?
    I, for one, collect multi ethnic doll series. Any information would be both interesting and helpful!

  14. In 1974 my mother while driving down Central Ave pregnant stop at the toy company and asked if she could name me after the company. She was told yes and for a couple of years the company would send me doll for christmas. I am currently buying the dolls of Ebay.

  15. So did your mother name you Shindana?


  16. I was given a very unique doll today for my daughter to add to her collection. From what I have read she has great historical past and was hoping someone could help with her name and significance. The doll is approximately 13in tall made of vinyl and wearing yellow top with white lace red mushrooms and blue and white flowers. On her neck is stamped. Division. Of operation bootstrap Inc 1968 shindana. Thanks for your help, Larry gray

  17. Hi Larry,

    Shindana made several 13-inch dolls. I would have to see a photograph of your doll in order to help you identify it properly.


  18. I remember when I started seeing Shindana dolls in the Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs in the late 60s. (They may have been in only one or the other, but we used to get both catalogs year in, year out, so I tend to blend the offerings into one big cosmic 60s, 70s toy catalog memory.) I also recall the Shindana dolls were clearly identified as being from Shindana, a word that was interesting and odd on the tongue. I remember how different it was to see dolls that were not just white dolls colored brown, but dolls intended to represent actual black people and black characters. (Wasn't Jimmy Walker eventually produced by them?) I liked to draw, and loved to draw people, so I was very interested in good representation of faces. These had real personality, like the best of the Mattel line.

    1. Jimmy "JJ" Walker is among several personality/celebrity dolls made by Shindana. Most accurately captured the likenesses of such people as Marla Gibbs, Dr. J, and O.J. Simpson.


  19. I had many Shndana dolls. My aunt knew Robert Bobo, President of Shindana toys. He gave my sister and I a "JJ" doll, Red Fox doll, Baaby Nancy doll and a Kim doll to name a few, but the doll I remember most was the african doll. I thought she was beautiful!!! I got her for Christmas the year our home burned. I was devastated to have lost her in the fire and have wished for that doll ever since!!!!! I am 50 years old now and I still think of that doll. From time to time I search the internet to find her. Doing so is what brought me to this site.It's so pleasing to see the preservation of the history of Shindana Toys. Shindana toys holds special memories for me. I can remember visiting the toy factory and seeing all those dolls that looked just like me...I'll never forget it or Malaika.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed reading your connection with Shindana dolls. It is nice to know of someone, other than my daughter, who owned the dolls as a child.

      The fire must have been quite devastating for you and your family. I hope you are able to replace your childhood Malaika. Versions of the doll are currently listed on eBay. Prices will vary as some sellers have prices that are more than inflated. $25 to $30 or less is a decent price for one in good to very good condition. With box they will be higher.. There is one listed without box now for $32. Here is the link. Good luck in your search.



Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!