Department 56 History

Department 56 History

A Brief History Of Department 56, makers of lighted Christmas houses and accessories, snowbabies and Possbile Dreams.
Our History

The History of Department 56

One Christmas evening, a group of friends set off to enjoy a dinner of celebration at a small country inn nestled in a quiet river town. As they rounded a bend in the road, they saw the small, old-fashioned village decorated for the holidays. The lights, like fairies, glowed and sparkled amid the freshly fallen snow. All evening, the conversation was full of Christmas memories and the visions the tiny town had evoked. Amidst the jovial banter and magical memories, the idea for a lighted Christmas village was born. That spark of an idea became a reality when, in 1976, Department 56 introduced a series of six hand-painted, ceramic buildings. The rest is history.

The company behind the villages.

Some twenty-five years ago, Department 56 began as part of Bachman's, a premiere retail florist in Minneapolis. Bachman's used a numbering system to identify each of its departments. The number assigned to wholesale gift imports division was, you guessed it, 56.

Now headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Department 56 has become a leader in the giftware, collectibles and holiday decorating industry and is best known for our hand-crafted lighted villages, Snowbabies™ figurines and extensive lines of holiday and home decorative products.

The building of a village: An historic events calendar.


The foundation of Department 56 took shape with the introduction of six charming, lighted, ceramic buildings. These six premiere items were the beginnings of The Original Snow Village®.


The original Original Snow Village designs were retired in order to accommodate 12 new introductions as well as the appearance of the first Village accessories.


The concept of The Heritage Village Collection® was developed. The first release was The Dicken's Village Series®, a collection of seven nostalgic shops and a church. All designed to capture the spirit of Christmas in Victorian England.


The New England Village Series and The Alpine Village Series® were added to The Heritage Village Collection. That same year, the world of Snowbabies™ bisque figurines was introduced.


The Heritage Village collection continued to grow with the addition of the hustle and bustle of Christmas in the City® and the inspiring Little Town of Bethlehem™.


Department 56 reached $56 million in sales and found it necessary to expand into a new 150,000 sq. ft. distribution center.


The legend of Santa became a part of the Department 56 tradition with the addition of The North Pole Series™ to The Heritage Village Collection.


On June 25, we opened our new corporate headquarters at One Village Place in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.


Department 56 is bought by the New York investment firm, Forstmann Little.


In June of this year, Department 56 completed an initial offering and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "DFS".


This year brought the introduction of The Disney Parks Village Series™ and Snowbunnies®.


Our first successful marketing program, "Homes for the Holidays", encouraged new collectors to start a tradition for themselves.


We introduced our website which still serves as a definitive source for product and retailer information.


The 10th anniversary of Snowbabies was celebrated with the creation of the Snowbabies Friendship Club™. The Classic Ornament Series was also introduced, giving collectors a new way to enjoy classic pieces long since retired.


The first year-round village, Seasons Bay™, makes a splash onto the marketplace, representing a late 19th-century American resort town. Elf Land™, an extension of the North Pole Series™, was also introduced as a suburb where the elves lived and played after the holidays.


In May, the first-ever corporate retail store opened in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, a move that enhanced both brand and product profile. And for the first time, Department 56 introduced pieces that included exquisite interior detail.


Another big year for expansion. In October, we opened a second retail store in the new Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our first magazine insert, Tablescapes, also hit the newsstands. It featured new and imaginative ways to use Village pieces, Snowbabies and general giftware as a part of home décor.


This year, Department 56 and The Original Snow Village® Collection both turned 25. To commemorate those twenty-five wonderful years, we invited all our friends and collectors from across the United States and Canada to a spectacular Silver Anniversary Celebration in St. Paul, Minnesota. Many special edition pieces and limited items were designed just for this momentous occasion. A grand time was had by all.


The next generation in lighting has arrived! Department 56 introduced eight lighted buildings that feature the new battery operated "long life cordless lighting" which eliminates the need for electrical cords in the lighted buildings. Now you can put up displays in places you never thought you could -- on a mantel, in a wreath or in the center of a table.


Ralphie and the legend of the much coveted “Red Rider BB Gun” was at the center of a new mid-tier Village series, “A Christmas Story”. Department 56 created “Higbee’s Department Store”, “Ralphie’s House” and the famous “Leg Lamp” for the series which was sold exclusively through Sears Department stores.


Appealing to the young and young at heart, “Tickle”, a line of luxurious collection of fashion and home accessories was introduced. This artistic inspired collection was the combined effort of many licensed and house designers. The offerings were as varied as the appeal. The Original Snow Village celebrated 30 years as the “gold standard” of lighted Villages and continues to attract new collectors, many are young families hoping to establish their own holiday traditions.


New York City may be the largest city in the United States but “Christmas In The City” is still our favorite. This metropolitan inspired collection of lighted buildings, porcelain accessories and animated pieces celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2007.


Did you know that Halloween is the second most celebrated holiday in the United States? This year we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Snow Village Halloween with a “Haunted Train Station” and an ongoing series of a train starting with “Haunted Rails Engine & Coal Car”.

Department 56 is a major force in the giftware and collectible industry. As we look to the future, we plan to actively explore new avenues for growth. Rest assured, our artists are constantly busy coming up with new and unique ways to pique your interest and also touch the collector's heart in everyone.