Bobblehead Museum: What it is and Why You Should Go

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The very concept of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is pretty cool in and of itself. Just the fact that it exists is pretty nice, but to actually see and experience it, well, that’s next level. Located on the fringe of downtown Milwaukee, in a gentrifying warehouse district, you’ll find a 4,000 square foot space with over 7,000 different bobbles.

We toured the Bobblehead Museum with Phil Sklar, Co-Founder and CEO, and marveled at all the gift ideas for the baseball fan in your life. Sklar and Brad Novak, the Hall’s current President, opened the Museum, in its current form, in 2019.

It all began in 2003, when the two men commenced collecting bobbleheads, with the very first in their collection coming courtesy of the Rockford Riverhawks.

Novak was working for the minor league baseball team at the time. In 2013, Sklar and Novak developed a bobblehead of their Michael Poll, a UWM Panthers team manager and Special Olympian. All the proceeds went to Special Olympics.

“So we put the two ideas together, and that’s how we developed the idea for the museum,” Sklar told me as we strolled through the aisles of the Bobblehead Hall.

“We announced the idea in 2014, sort of took our collection public and added to it, in 2016 we had a preview exhibit and then we opened here on February 1, 2019.” (For the full history of the Bobblehead Museum)

One of the first things you’ll notice is just how many exhibits are on display in such a confined space. It’s what truly makes this such a unique museum. The aisles are sorted by category, with the shelves further defined by subcategories.

Obviously, sports is just massive for bobbles, so there are a lot of aisles and shelves organized by league, team and player. Naturally, the Milwaukee and Wisconsin teams are very well represented, in the most high traffic areas of the space, but the local teams for Chicago and Minnesota are right there with them.

The very first object that could be classified as a bobblehead dates all the way back to the 1760s, but bobbles as we know them really went mainstream via baseball.

“Baseball is the most popular genre, there’s been more baseball bobbleheads than anything else,” Sklar continued.

“Baseball has 162 games a year in the Major Leagues, there’s also the minor league system that has over 120 teams, used to be more, so they just give away so many more than other leagues and teams, and a lot of people come just expecting to see baseball, but they’re surprised by how much variety there is.”

That said, there are a multitude of bobbles here that aren’t sports related. The bobblehead museum has representation from Al Capone, Leonardo Da Vinci, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and several versions of Dr. Anthony Fauci (including the facepalm press conference and Washington Nationals ceremonial first pitch).

babe ruth

Perhaps the weirdest, or most off-beat bobble available for sale in the gift shop is that of Vladimir Putin playing hockey. Yes, the 68-year-old Russian despot sometimes hits the ice, and his side always wins, with Putin himself sometimes scoring as many as eight or nine goals.

I mean, when you’re playing against a brutal dictator, you kind of have to let him win, right? That said the controversial section, I guess we could call it, immediately drew me in. It’s only a couple shelves, but it includes Kim Jong-IL, Osama Bin Laden, a plethora of racist stereotypical figures and mammy caricatures.

This is not place for trigger warnings, nor is it an endorsement of the supposed ideals behind these objects. Instead it’s a forum for discussion and education.

“Bobbleheads are meant to be fun, but you can create a bobblehead of anything,” Sklar said

“We can hide, or take off display some of those that are more controversial, but it evokes discussion and people can read it more about, we’re going to be adding QR codes that people can scan and get more information on specific bobbleheads, why they were made and the stories behind them.”

Hours:
Monday-Friday: 10am-6pm
Saturday-Sunday: 10am-5p

cubs

Location:
170 S. 1st St. 2nd Floor
Near the edge of Walker’s Point and the Third Ward; $5 admission

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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