CELEBRATION SPOTLIGHT – Phil Sklar
The bobblehead is one of those iconic collector’s items that both reflects pop culture and is pop culture. National Bobblehead Day is January 7th, and I recently sat down with Phil Sklar, co-founder and CEO of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In our Celebration Spotlight with Phil Sklar, we discussed all things bobblehead, including its iconic place in pop culture history.
Creating National Bobblehead Day
Michele: What made you decide to create National Bobblehead Day?
Phil: We had the idea for National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in about 2014, and we announced it to the public in November of 2014. We always see that its National Dog Day or it’s National Bacon Day, all these awesome days and we’re like, “Oh. There has to be a National Bobblehead Day.” And we looked it up and there was no National Bobblehead Day. So, we went through the process to have National Bobblehead Day certified. When we decided to pick a day we looked at the calendar and looked back at the previous year and all the bobbleheads that were given away and released and looked forward at the future year and thought January would be a great time. So, National Bobblehead Day is celebrated on January 7th.
The Ever-So Popular Bobblehead
What do you think makes bobbleheads so popular?
I think it’s a couple of reasons. First off, they’re just fun. People just love to have a bobblehead on their desk where they can just look at it. Whether it’s their favorite sports team, pop-culture icon, their favorite musician, religious figure, anything, and everything can be turned into a bobblehead which I think is another appeal. If it’s a character or person, even objects…We did bobblehead sports balls that just came in, basketball, football, hockey, and so forth. You can really turn pretty much anything into a bobblehead. I think that’s one of the fun things. And I think the other fun thing is so many of them are free. You get it when you go to a game. And who doesn’t love going to a game and coming home with a bobblehead of your favorite mascot or player?
I agree with you. I have two on my desk, Bob Ross and a local sports mascot, Clark the Lark. And they’re just fun to have. What is your favorite bobblehead?
That always is a hard question. I think it changes. Usually, I end up going back to the one that started the idea for the museum. If I had to pick one bobblehead to keep and the rest had to go, that one is Michael Poll. He’s a manager for all the Milwaukie Panthers sports teams for the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He’s been a Special Olympian now for almost 40 years. So, we wanted to honor him with a bobblehead and went through that process in 2013/2014. That’s what really sparked the idea to have the museum dedicated to bobbleheads which sparked the idea to have National Bobblehead Day.
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
A bit of a chain reaction right there. Tell me more about the museum. What’s it all about, what does it celebrate? What stories does it tell?
We opened on February 1, 2019, and we have about 7,000 unique bobbleheads on display from all different genres and periods. Some dating back to the 1800s. It’s organized by categories so you’ll find baseball, basketball, football, hockey, all the other sports like boxing and golf, tennis. Anything and everything you can imagine. And then politics and pop culture, music, movies, TV, comics, cereal. Just a wide variety of everything. It makes for a really fun experience for visitors of all ages. Whether it’s little kids seeing characters, team, players they know to their grandparents seeing the characters they grew up with. It makes for some great conversation and visits. We have scavenger hunts which kids of all ages enjoy.
There are a lot of exhibits like the history of bobbleheads, how they’re made, the stories behind individual bobbleheads from local, notable people like J.J. Watt who grew up 30 minutes from the museum to Liberace, Harry Houdini who have roots in Wisconsin. And notable figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Jackie Robinson, to give visitors more information about the people behind the bobbleheads which sparks a lot of fun conversations as well.
The first pop culture bobbleheads depicting specific people featured this music group in 1964. Who were they?
How many people come through the museum?
We get thousands of people visiting. Summers are the busiest time and school breaks. With kids off school, we have non-stop visitors. We’ve had visitors who come to the museum from all 50 states and about 25 different countries. Come to the museum and you can sign our guestbook and put a pin in the map where you visited from, if your spot hasn’t already been taken.
It’s exciting to see it fill up from when we opened our doors in February 1, 2019. Now when you see people who come in thinking they’ll be able to put a pin in the map and their spot has sort of been bombarded with pins already even though they’re from Seattle or a faraway place. So, yeah, that has been fun and we filled up our first guestbook and now we’re filling up the second one. It’s definitely fun and interesting to talk to people about why they like bobbleheads or what intrigued them.
Is your collection the largest in the U.S.?
Yes. We’re working with Guinness World Records to certify the collection as the largest. We have 7,000 plus at the museum and now over 11,000 unique bobbleheads in the collection. Which is far and away the largest. It’ll be fun to do that as well. So maybe next Bobblehead Day, we’ll be able to celebrate the largest collection. And we’re the only museum in the world dedicated to bobbleheads, so it’s fun to have that distinction, too.
Hall of Famers
Filling up that first guestbook is definitely a moment to celebrate. How do decide which bobbleheads go into the Hall of Fame?
The Hall of Fame is sort of an evolving process right now. We had an online poll in 2015 to see if Pete Rose’s bobblehead should be the first one inducted. He got about 94% of the vote since he’s banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame. So, his bobblehead is currently the only one. The pandemic sort of delayed the process for the next class of hall of famers. But we are going to get that process rolling on an annual basis where new bobbleheads can be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Is there going to be a submission process on the website or a polling process?
Yes. It’s going to be a mix. There will be a panel and we’ll have a whole process like many of the other halls of fame to vet the candidates and to have a really fun process to see whose the best of the best.
Celebrate Every Day
What other stories or information would you like to share about the museum, about a particular bobblehead?
National Bobblehead Day has become our favorite day of the year. All the other holidays come at the end of the year, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and it’s fun to come right after that so we keep our celebrations going. We do contests and promotional giveaways. A lot of new releases on National Bobblehead Day. Every day for us is sort of National Bobblehead Day, but it’s a way for people to celebrate.
The first year we reached out to a lot of the teams and said, “Hey, National Bobblehead Day is going to be coming in a few weeks. This is the first one. Will you post about it?” A lot of them did say, “Yeah, we’ll participate.” Some of the major league teams said, “We’re not really sure. We probably won’t be able to this year. But maybe we’ll keep an eye out.” By about 3 o’clock that day every single major league team had posted something about National Bobblehead Day.
Major League Baseball put out a video, a sort of compilation. It was really gratifying to see that. And to see the date trending on social media was super exciting.
Do you have any big events coming up for 2022?
We have a lot of new bobbleheads in the works. We’re always coming up with new ideas, brainstorming, and thinking up what we can turn into a bobblehead. So, we have quite a few on tap for 2022. We have a big National Bobblehead Day celebration. Throughout the year we will be releasing new bobbleheads. We’ll be adding exhibits to the museum. There’s Milwaukee Museum Week coming up at the end of January and early February that is inaugural and that we’re participating in.
Michele: You mentioned before that you follow certain celebrations and try to coordinate with them. Are there any particular days on the National Day Calendar that bobbleheads seem a perfect fit?
Phil: There are actually so many. Sometimes we see people post, “Ah, man. We missed National Bacon Day and there’s a bacon bobble.” There’s a lot that we do participate in where we’ll post, “It’s National Sports Day. Here are our favorite sports bobbleheads.” So many of the other days have bobbleheads that can be simply tied to them. We’ve had a lot of fun with that and we’ll continue to do that where we celebrate different national days through bobbleheads.
One Day You’re The
Michele: Definitely let us know when that’s happening. We will want to add that to the National Bobblehead Day page. And like you said before, they’re just fun. How can you not love a bobblehead? Speaking of loving them, could I have a bobblehead made of me?
Phil: Yes. We do offer that. You can get customized bobbleheads of friends, family members, yourself, anybody. That’s definitely a unique gift whether it’s Valentine’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, holidays. We see that quite a bit. It’s a really unique, one-of-a-kind gift.
Michele: That would be fun. I’ve watched videos of people unboxing their bobblehead and it’s exciting to see them compare. “Oh, that does look like me,” or “My nose isn’t that big.”
Phil: That is always fun. We get to see that sometimes in person if people come to pick up their bobbleheads at the museum. That first reaction…and sometimes you see it with the players, too. They’ll get asked on camera for the reaction to their bobblehead on their bobblehead night. Sometimes it’s positive and sometimes they might have some constructive criticism. Sometimes they’ll say it doesn’t look anything like them and that can make news. And sometimes it makes the marketing people or the people who worked on the bobblehead a little uneasy. But it’s definitely fun to see that reaction when people see their bobblehead for the first time.
Michele: Do you have one?
Phil: We do. Me and the other co-founder both have many bobbleheads that we have on display with the welcome panel at the museum to welcome visitors. We’ve done a couple of full-sized ones just to test out some different manufacturers. So it’s always fun to see which ones look better and make some tweaks.
Be sure to visit the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Until you do, take a virtual tour from the comfort of your home.
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