“Our goal is that people leave the museum with more knowledge and curiosity than when they got here,” Sklar said.
Bobbleheads date from the 1700s, when decorative Chinese nodding-head figures could be found in Europe. They gained popularity in the United States in the 1960s with the creation of sports bobbleheads for players such as Willie Mays.
Older bobbleheads — some of which you can see in the museum — were made from papier-mache or ceramic, which could easily crack or chip. Modern bobbleheads use plastic or resin and are more durable.
Something for everyone
With its second-floor location in a busy neighborhood, the museum feels like a library, cultural center and cozy hangout in one space. Stop by the wall map to mark your hometown city with a pin, then nod a hello to the 6-foot-tall bobblehead that seems to smile back at you. Listen to the museum’s theme song, but be prepared: The catchy tune might get stuck in your head.
The museum has sections for sports, pop culture, history and politics. On the shelves, bobbleheads stand in tidy rows. With the push of a button, some of the figurines even talk. As visitors stroll, they can read facts about bobblehead history and the real people who inspired the figurines.
Ten-year-old Bianca Ladd of Milwaukee admired the collection of animal bobbleheads — particularly a small, furry cat — as well as the larger figurines on display.
“Some of the bobbleheads here are really big,” Bianca said. “One is even taller than me!”
Lillian Pollnow, 10, was visiting from Illinois. Pointing out a Bruce Lee bobblehead to her father, Adam, she said she recognized the martial-arts star from nonfiction books.
Wandering the aisles, you’ll see popular television and cartoon characters from different generations. There are bobbleheads from Betty Boop, Peanuts, “South Park” and “The Simpsons,” among others.
“It’s fun to see grandparents, parents and children point out these characters to each other,” Sklar said.
Sports fans will appreciate the large collection of player and mascot bobbleheads, representing professional and college teams. In the pop culture section, the wizard Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings” towers over several smaller hobbit bobbleheads. There’s a collection of creepy villains from horror movies — it’s placed strategically on a high shelf to avoid startling the youngest visitors.
Eagle-eyed guests will spot a rare Albert Einstein bobblehead with real, flowing hair. You’ll also find bobbleheads of presidents, celebrities and Supreme Court justices.
For those who want to explore the exhibits in a more structured way, the museum offers scavenger hunts.
In addition to running the museum, Sklar and Novak work with a manufacturer to produce custom bobbleheads for sale. From start to finish, creating a new bobblehead takes 90 days.
So far, the museum’s diverse collection is earning guests’ nods of approval.
“Walking in, kids are excited and overwhelmed because there are so many different bobbleheads. It’s hard to get bored,” Sklar said.
“Kids should definitely visit,” Bianca agreed.
If you go
What: National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
Where: 170 South First Street, Second Floor, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
When: Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Weekend hours coming soon.
How much: $5 for general admission, free for age 4 and younger.
For more information: Parents can visit bobbleheadhall.com or call 800-414-1482.