Simon Whistler explains how troll dolls went from a gift by creator Thomas Dam for his daughter Lila to a billion dollar industry in a revealing episode of his series Today I Found Out. Although the dolls have had periods of great popularity, Dam himself was not always the person profiting from them.
Thomas Dam was first and foremost a father, striving to financially provide for his family in the Danish town of Gjøl. His work experience ranged from such things as baker to fisherman to bricklayer before he finally became a woodworker. Despite his best efforts, his family spent their early years living in poverty. All that changed when he surprised his daughter, Lila, with a gift of his own creation. Inspired by local lore of certain magical forest creatures, Dam presented his daughter with the world’s first troll doll, who had magical powers and loved to make people happy. Unlike the plastic trolls that existed in the 1960s and 1990s, this original 1959 troll doll was carved from wood and had glass eyes and woolen hair. His daughter’s love of the doll spread to her friends who wanted one of their own. Setting up shop in a shed in his backyard, Dam started taking orders and selling his troll dolls at local fun fairs and toy stores.