From Doll Factory to High Rise

What’s the connection between a rubber duckie and the tallest building in the Middle East? A new exhibition presents dolls from the 50s and 60s made by a pioneering factory in the spirit of the new State of Israel.

Doll Factory is a sweet new exhibition of toys now on at the Old Jaffa Museum of Antiquities. The factory in question was Mayer Brothers Chemical Industries in Petah Tikva that, among other things, manufactured the rubber dollies, duckies and other toys that Israeli children played with throughout the Fifties and Sixties.

As exhibition curator Limor Lahav Margolis puts it, these dolls “were part of the childhood scenery for the first generation after the establishment of the state”.

The rubber dolls were handmade; the work including casting, gluing and painting by hand. There were baby dolls, children and animals. In keeping with the spirit of the newly-minted state, these were sometimes embellished with national symbols such as the kova tembel cap, bible sandals and the Star of David.

The exhibition includes dolls that reflect the Israeli culture of the time with characters representing professions like “Danny the builder”, “Saadia the paperboy”, doctors, drivers, and more.

The dolls on display were provided by collector and author Yaron Gayer who, over the course of a decade, amassed hundreds of dolls manufactured by Mayer, investigated the topic and authored a book about the doll factory in 2008.

According to the wonderful site, Mayer Brothers was an entrepreneurship and investment company dealing in industry and real estate. It was founded in 1921 by three Romanian emigrant brothers: Mordechai (Motke), Moses and Benjamin Mayer (also Meir).

The brothers started out with a small factory that produced matches. It proved so successful that the Mayers opened branches in Beirut, Baghdad, Egypt and Cyprus. Later the brothers decided to invest their profits in the textile industry and these products were exported to Europe.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, the brothers founded a parent company, Mayer Investments, whose various subsidiaries included Mayer Ventures Ltd. for import-export, Mayer Textile Mills, Mayer Chemical Industries, which produced artificial leather and toys, Palma Textiles Ltd., Iso-Kol which produced industrial insulation, and others. The factories were located in the industrial zones of Petah Tikva, Tel Aviv, Netanya and Haifa.

In 1955, the brothers established Export Bank Ltd. Together with Sir Isaac Wolfson and Charles Clore, they founded the financial house Wolfson-Clore-Mayer which invested in real estate, industry, trade and finance, and was one of the largest investment firms in the country.

In 1959, construction began of the Shalom-Meir Tower in Tel Aviv. The building, at that time the tallest in the Middle East, was inaugurated in 1965 and was dedicated to the Mayer brothers’ father.

The Doll Factory exhibition runs through June 30, 2013 the Old Jaffa Museum of Antiquities.

About Rachel Neiman

A veteran media professional who has lived in Israel since 1984, Rachel has been part of the ISRAEL21c organization since 2008. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Globes Online, the English-language edition of Israel’s leading business daily, and before that, at The Jerusalem Post, as a business reporter, feature writer, and consumer columnist. Rachel began writing about Israeli technology companies at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine and is a professional Hebrew to English translator. In her spare time, she is an active member of the Havurat Tel Aviv congregation, and the Holyland Hash House Harriers, part of an international running and drinking disorganization.