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The Story of Melissa & Doug, the Beloved Children’s Toy Brand

The Story of Melissa & Doug, the Beloved Children’s Toy Brand

If you’re a parent these days, you’re probably familiar with Melissa & Doug toys. Maybe you or someone else gave your children one of their wooden puzzles as a gift.

Perhaps you have a kiddo who loves to pretend clean, cook in a kitchen or be a veterinarian? Maybe your child has encountered one of Melissa & Doug’s realistic play sets that help make those activities come to life. Or maybe you’ve traveled with children and needed some entertainment for a restaurant or doctor’s office waiting room. In that case, you may know and love the Melissa & Doug Water Wow art pads.

I was sold on Melissa & Doug as a brand from the beginning, because their toys are so well made and thoughtfully designed. I realized, however, that I knew very little about the people or the story behind this wonderful brand. If you’re curious to learn more about how this now-iconic children’s toy company came to be, you’re in the right place.

Melissa and Doug are Actually Running Melissa & Doug

Melissa & Doug was founded by – you guessed it – Melissa and Doug! Doug and Melissa Bernstein started the company back in 1988 and initially ran the operation from Doug’s parents’ garage. Both Melissa and Doug come from families of educators (three of their four parents were teachers), and they started Melissa & Doug with the goal of creating meaningful educational toys for kids. Imagination, play and creativity were big parts of their lives, so they wanted to infuse those elements into everything the company made.

The duo began by creating the wooden puzzles the company soon became renowned for. Borrowing his parents’ station wagon, they made deliveries of their products up and down the east coast. Their first big hit was their Fuzzy Farm Puzzle, which was a wooden puzzle with fuzzy, tactile pieces of material added. The puzzles helped develop sensory awareness and matching skills in kids. This puzzle was something very different for the toy market. Melissa & Doug stuck to puzzles for more than a decade, creating more than 1,000 styles. In the late 1990s the company started releasing other toys, including wooden toys, plush toys, arts and crafts kits, pretend play toys, and more.

Melissa & Doug have been committed to quality from the start. The company continues to hand-create every single product prototype to get it just right, before sending it to be produced in mass at their factory. Currently, Melissa & Doug has about 1,000 employees worldwide, with headquarters in Wilton, Connecticut.

Beloved and Classic

Melissa & Doug is the number one preschool brand for wooden toys, and that’s not a surprise. The company often puts a twist on a classic toy, making it special and memorable.

Furthermore, everything they create is incredibly durable. In fact, the company intentionally makes its toys with the future in mind. The toys are crafted so they can be passed down within families as new generations are born. Melissa & Doug toys are designed to get lots of love for many, many years.

Their toys are also designed to foster imagination within the children who play with them, helping kids in childhood and into adulthood. It’s built into their mission statement, “to provide a launch pad to ignite imagination and a sense of wonder in all children so they can discover themselves, their passions, and their purpose.”

The Melissa & Doug team also focuses on creating toys that allow for multiple uses whenever possible. The company believes that “the best playthings are often simple concepts that inspire children to come up with their own twist.”

Young girl playing with Melissa and Doug Wooden Geometric Stacker Set

The Brand’s Greatest Hits

It’s hard to narrow down the list to just a few top Melissa & Doug toys, because at this point the brand has released so many winners. Here are a few categories of product that we’d like to spotlight:

Wooden puzzles: This is the product that launched the company and every family needs at least one of these wonderful puzzles. 

Play food: Melissa & Doug’s play food ranges from sliceable wooden fruit to wooden cookie sets to a lemonade stand, and so much more. 

Role play: Kids love to role play, and the company offers terrific dress-up costumes for various careers, vet and doctor’s kits, and more. 

Water Wow!: These water-based pens allow your kids to create countless hours of art, with zero mess for you to clean up. 

Small girl playing with Melissa and Doug My Magnetic Calendar
Melissa And Doug Play Food Fruit Set
Melissa and Doug Play Food Hot Dog

Committed to Kids & the Planet, Too

Melissa & Doug is passionate about children. They’ve clearly demonstrated that with the amazing toys they create, but they’ve also forged a partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics to educate people about the benefits of open-ended play. Melissa & Doug is passionate about keeping our planet safe and clean as well. The company’s products are more sustainable than that of many other toy companies, because of the quality and durability. This makes the toys much less disposable, as they’re able to be shared and passed down to younger generations.  

Melissa & Doug also “replace” the wood they use to create their toys, through a global reforestation partnership with One Tree Planted. What this means is there’s a new tree planted for every tree the company uses. Melissa & Doug makes sure the wood, paper and cardboard they use is sourced responsibly as well. The company works exceedingly hard to ensure its operations are carbon neutral.

did you know…?

Last but not least, here are a few fun facts about Melissa and Doug Bernstein and their iconic toy brand:

  • They started the brand in their early 2000s, but eventually became parents to six children (hello, product testing!).
  • As of 2022, Melissa & Doug has created more than 5,000 products – whoa!

Melissa and Doug  Louie Lobster Claw Catcher Set Toy

Spark your child’s imagination with Melissa & Doug toys

Toys from Melissa & Doug ignite imagination and a sense of wonder in all children so they can discover themselves, their passions, and their purpose.

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About The Author

Anna Keller

Anna Keller, creator of curiouser-and-curiouser.com, blogs about parenting, pregnancy, health & wellness, fashion, and more. Anna’s priority in all that she does – whether it’s with her family and friends, through her writing for brands such as Beyond Yoga or for the blog Triad Moms on Main, during her work as a Pure Barre teacher, or as a Beauty counter consultant – is connection. After all, from connection comes understanding, purpose, and joy. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with her husband, Kevin, their 5-year-old daughter, Maggie, and their 18-month-old son, Vance.

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