Nasty sting in the tale of 'our' Buzzy Bee icon

By Victoria Roberts

Take a deep breath, New Zealand. When it comes to the origins of the Kiwiana icon Buzzy Bee, the Yanks almost certainly got there first.

The Aussies created a buzz when they tried to claim our pavlova, and now Kiwis have been stung with the news that the clackety bee was an American concept.

Hec Ramsey and his brother John, who are credited with inventing the Kiwi icon, started production of Buzzy Bee in 1948.

Vernon Davenport, now aged 72, worked at Hec Ramsey's toy factory for 40 years and well remembers his cobber George Steel bringing a toy bee into the old Grey Lynn factory.

"George's sister brought one back from the States and George brought it in to show the boss in 1948. Hec looked at it and decided to make his own version. Within three months we were making batches of 5000 to 10,000."

Mr Davenport says the American bee "was flat, about one and a half inches thick, timber, with the centre gouged out where the noise contraption went. It had coloured paper stuck to its body instead of paint."

Antique toy collector Warwick Henderson said sticking printed paper on wooden toys was a 19th-century practice. The prototype Mr Davenport saw back in 1948 could easily have been from that period.

However, Mr Henderson says the United States company Fisher Price produced its version of the toy for only a short time, in the 1950s. New Zealanders have canonised Buzzy Bee as a national icon. Sentimentally, he is ours.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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