The sketch art of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel began to appear in the 1930s in Germany and Switzerland, mostly pastoral drawings of children. The Swiss art publisher Ars Sacra was involved in the early popularization of the art on postcards. Hummel's "art cards" became popular throughout Germany, catching the eye of Franz Goebel, porcelain maker and head of W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik. Goebel acquired rights to turn Hummel's drawing into figurines, producing the first line in 1935. Goebel was one of many mid-size porcelain firms competing in the US market and Franz Goebel´s knack for novelty marketing caused the figurines to become popular in the US during the 1930s. The base for the popularity was among German immigrants on the East Coast.

After the end of World War II, the popularity of Hummel figurines grew as American soldiers stationed in West Germany began sending the figurines home as gifts. Nostalgia associated with the figurines and the U.S. soldiers buying them led to Hummel figurines becoming a popular collector's item. Popularity increased even more when the figurines were sold by the Army PX system. A vibrant speculator market in Hummel figurines developed and in the 1970s, Hummel figurines skyrocketed in price. M.I. Hummel collector plates made by Goebel and sold by the Goebel Collectors Club, were a prominent item in the Bradford Exchange, a supplier of collectible plates. Production of Hummel figurines by Goebel ended in 2008.