BERLIN - Horst Brandstaetter, the head of the German toy company that produces Playmobil, the small plastic figures loved by children the world over, has died aged 81, the company announced Monday.
"With Horst Brandstaetter the Playmobil family loses not just its chief, company owner and patriarch but the toy sector in Germany also one of its most distinguished personalities," the Geobra Brandstaetter company said in a statement.
He died last Wednesday, it added, without specifying the cause.
Known as "Herr Playmobil", or to colleagues simply as "HOB", Brandstaetter joined the family firm at the age of 19 in 1952 when it was run by his two uncles.
He soon recognised that the future of toy manufacturing was more in plastic products than metal ones and restructured the production facilities, developing the hula hoop in 1958 that became a worldwide hit.
But when the oil crisis drove up the cost of manufacturing plastic products in the 1970s, the company's mould designer Hans Beck came up with the idea of the small 7.5-centimetre (3-inch) figurines using minimal amounts of plastic.
Under Brandstaetter's leadership, the company based in Zirndorf in southern Bavaria state initially made just three models, a knight, a workman and a Native American. But figures today range from police and pirates, to fairies and clowns.
Playmobil marked it's 40th birthday last year. The Brandstaetter group's sales worldwide came to 595 million euros (S$897 million) in 2014, the statement said.
Horst Brandstaetter paved the way for his succession by establishing in the mid-1990s a foundation to manage the company "in accordance with his wishes" after his death, it added.