MILWAUKEE – This morning, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled the first bobblehead of Billie the Brownie, the elf-like character who embodied Christmas in the Milwaukee area from the 1920s to the 1950s. The special edition bobblehead was produced by the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.
Sitting on a wrapped green and red present bearing his name, the smiling Billie the Brownie bobblehead is giving a wave with his left hand while decked out in green and red. The bobbleheads, which are individually numbered to 2,023, are only available through the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum’s Online Store and at the Museum, which is located at 170 S. 1st St. in Milwaukee. The bobbleheads, which just arrived and ship now, cost $30 each plus a flat-rate shipping charge of $8 per order for orders placed online.
From November 8th, 1931, to December 24th, 1955, Billie the Brownie captured the hearts and minds of young WTMJ radio listeners. “He was and always will be a part of the magic of Christmas in Milwaukee,” said Mame McCully, Executive Director of the Milwaukee County Historical Society. “He was in the hearts of so many children and they have passed on those stories from generation to generation.”
Popularized in the 1880s by a series of illustrated stories published in children’s magazines, brownies were created by Canadian artist and writer Palmer Cox. Inspired by the Scottish stories told by his grandmother, Cox created dozens of the little men, each with a different ethnic background, personality, and occupation. The folktales featured the brownies as “imaginary sprites who delight in harmless pranks and helpful deeds. They work and sport while weary households sleep, and never allow themselves to be seen by mortal eyes.” Brownies were produced as various toys and became the namesake of Kodak’s “Brownie” camera in 1900.
In Milwaukee, brownies began to appear in Schuster’s Department Store advertisements and displays during the 1920s. By 1927, Billie the Brownie was featured in Schuster’s annual Christmas Parade. His popularity took off four years later when he became well-known for his daily 15-minute radio segment with Santa Claus and an Eskimo named Metik. They chatted about the holiday, read letters from local children to Santa and told Christmas stories. Originally presented as an advanced scout for Santa’s arrival in Milwaukee, Billie would communicate via shortwave radio with the North Pole to update Santa about local children and get the progress of toy production in Santa’s workshop.
Young children would rush home from school to listen to Billie the Brownie on the radio each weekday evening. Billie would encourage them to do their chores, brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, mind their parents, and write their Christmas “wish letter” to Santa. Kids all over the metro Milwaukee area would send letters to the radio station so that Billie would read them on air in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In 1947 alone, WTMJ received over 100,000 letters.
“After receiving several requests over the years, we’re excited to unveil the first bobblehead of Billie the Brownie who is a local legend in the Milwaukee area,” National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum co-founder and CEO Phil Sklar said. “Thanks to the important role he played during the Christmas season, stories of Billie the Brownie have been passed on by countless families over the years. This bobblehead will be a must-have for families who have fond memories of Billie the Brownie!”
About the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum:
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, which is located at 170 S. 1st St. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, opened to the public on February 1st, 2019. The HOF and Museum also produces high quality, customized bobbleheads for retail sale as well as organizations, individuals, and teams across the country. Visit us online and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.