Yes, Toys ARE Us
Recently we learned that most of the “Toys R Us” stores are closing. This bit of news got me thinking about toys in general. How far back do they go? What were the first toys? What toys did I play with as a child? In addition to being fun to play with, do toys have a serious purpose? Here’s what I learned.
The origin of toys goes back to prehistoric times. Archeologists have discovered dolls over 4,000 years old. Animal toys and smaller versions of adult tools have been unearthed at excavation sites. Ancient Egypt even made dolls with moveable limbs, while Greece and Rome made dolls out of wax and terra cotta. In Rome children played with small bows and arrows and even yo-yos.
The 18th and 19th Centuries showed a development in toys. In the 18th Century, toys began to be manufactured as new attitudes toward childhood developed. The year 1767 saw the first jig saw puzzle. At the same time, the Rocking Horse was invented to help children learn to balance and eventually to ride a real horse. In the 19th Century, there was an emphasis on educational toys and toys with a religious theme—for example, a miniature Noah’s ark.
But it is the 20th Century that has been called “the golden age of toy development.” In the early decades children played not only with dolls and balls, but also with toy cars, trains, ships, and soldiers. World War II saw the invention of “Silly Putty” or “Play Doh” which was originally wallpaper cleaner. Post World War II saw the birth of the Barbie doll, Action man, Legos and Mr. Potato head.
What toys did you play with as a child? To jog your memory, here are some of the most popular toys for the following decades:
1940s – Crystal Radio Set, Gilbert Erector Set, Model Plane kits, Doctors’/Nurse’s kits, Kewpie Doll, Tiddlywinks, Steel Radio Flyer Wagon.
1950s – Play Doh, Magic 8 Ball, Frisbee, Slinky, Pogo Stick, Hula Hoop, BAS-KET (miniature basketball), doll furniture.
1960s – Chatty Cathy, Ken doll, Easy-Bake Oven, G.I. Joe, Lite-Brite, Suzy Homemaker, Wham-O-Super Ball.
1970s – Spirograph, Etch-a-Sketch, Stretch Armstrong, Atari 2600, Weeble.
1980s – Cabbage Patch Dolls, Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Transformers, Game Boy
1990s – Nintendo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nerf Guns, Hungry Hippos, Jenga, Twister, Uno, Teddy Ruxpin.
2000s – ZhuZhu pets, PlayStation, Nerf, Micro-machines, Little Pet Shop, IZ, K’s Kids, Buzz Bee Toys, Pillow Pets.
2010s – Nerf, Beanie Babies, X Box, Pokemon, Super Soaker, American Girl
I grew up in the early 1950s. By far my favorite toy was my doll furniture set. I would save up my allowance and strawberry picking money and buy a piece of doll furniture at the local dime store. I had a baby grand piano, a refrigerator with removeable shelves, a desk with drawers that came out, and a sewing machine with a needle that actually went up and down. When I entered the convent, my mother stored my doll furniture for me and I forgot about it until we were cleaning things out. My niece has the doll furniture now. I hope a little girl in the future will be able to play with it and enjoy it as much as I did.
Now it’s your turn. What toys did you play with as a child? What toys did your children or grandchildren play with? Which toys have withstood the test of time with regard to popularity? Why?
This song is not about toys, but it’s about the children who play with toys. The song is “Slow Down” by Nichole Nordeman. It reminds us how fast children grow up… and it pleads with them (and with life itself) to slow down…please slow down. I hope you like this tender song.
Please share below your thoughts about toys or about this song with us. Thank you!
Good Morning, Melannie!
Growing up, I was a huge collector of those green “army men” that I’m pretty sure are still sold. I collected hundreds of them, would pit one side against another, create these dioramas of war in the living room, and then my friend and I would gather elastics and use them as weapons to wage war against each other. I know that sounds violent, but we loved it. We — my friend and I — would also play that hockey game, the one in which you controlled the hockey players by moving them back and forth along predetermined grooves. We played that for hours! Does anyone out there remember Skittle Ball? Or was it Skittle Bowl? You would set the wooden pins up on a raised surface and then swing a ball tethered to a chain to knock down the pins — another game we played for hours! My childhood is swarming back to me!
Good morning, what a nice uplifting song! I remember playing Cowboys and Indians in the 40’s, but not to the point of going to school with a weapon. Today’s games seem to be very violent. Hide and Seek was also a big one. Before Little League, we would gather in someones back yard and play baseball, there might only be 2 or 3 on a team but we had the best fun!
Good morning Sister, I just introduced my three grandchildren 4, 7 and 13 to Simon. Card games like Uno make them plan their moves. I was wondering when the first deck of cards was introduced. Our family played cards a lot.
I bought a used Fisher Price parking garage for my first grandson to play with at my house. He is 27 years old, the garage is still at my house and was enjoyed by more grandchildren and is still enjoyed by my 5 year old granddaughter. Have a blessed week!
My daughter turned 16 in February and I can still remember her first birthday. The song and video brought back many memories. I know our job is to love them and prepare them for life but it does go by in the blink of an eye. The song reminds us to cherish every little moment and love our children everyday as a gift from God!
Thank you, Sister! The “Slow Down” song inspired me to gather a collection of photos from our older daughter’s growing up years, as a gift to her for her 23rd birthday and college graduation on Mother’s Day weekend! What makes it even more poignant is that she will begin her job as an elementary teacher in August; some day soon she’ll experience the same emotions year after year as she transitions her classes through the important growing up years!
My favorites were a plastic little red spinning wheel that made ropes, my Toodles doll, and a toy sewing machine that really worked. Today I am an avid spinner and quilter. My “Toodles” doll I saved and gave to my first daughter. Sadly, it didn’t make it past her growing years, but she enjoyed her.
Good Morning Sister Melannie,
I still love toys and have my first – first Barbie Doll.
The song is so true.
I remember loving the smell of a new box of Crayola crayons! Still love it! Played with Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Pick-up-Sticks and games like Monopoly, Go Fish, and Checkers. Wagons, bikes, scooters—I loved to play outdoors with my friends. What wonderful memories!
Wow! So many toys, little singer sewing machine, Barbie, Ken and Skipper. Betsy McCall dolls, Troll dolls. Tetherball (broke my nose!) small tools to work in the yard with my Dad. Great memories today. Thanks for the prompt to remember! Have a wonderful week!
Absolutely beautiful song. Monday’s are my favorite day because of your blog
Thank you Sr. Melanie, I remember getting a Nursing kit foe several Christmases and also a Dennis the Menace doll, which I took to St, Clare’s Hospital School of Nursing in NYC. HE sat on my bed for the three years I was there.
Happy Monday, Sister Melanie,
Always begin my week with you !
Growing up in NC we didn’t have a lot of money, so not a lot of toys.
My favorite were my dolls, my Nana made a cloth one for me, and I loved her. My Mama made me a pair of Ragedy Ann and Andy. I received my last Christmas doll when I was 13…..and still have her.
Toys may break, or be given away, but those sweet memories live in my Heart ♥️
Blessings to you!
My Raggedy Ann doll. That paddle with a ball attached to it with an elastic string–great for hand-eye coordination. Outside: hopscotch and roller skating!
As a boy in the 40’s I remember my first wind-up train, Erector sets, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, My first Tricycle, and Bicycle, I took my red Wagon apart and made my first go-cart, and I had a Red Ryder 1938 model BB gun along with a variety cap guns including a twin set reversed for cross drawing.
Dear Sr. Melanie, Your blog is the best part of Mondays!
I grew up in a very small town (about 250) in Central Indiana in the 40’s. We dressed up our kittens in doll clothes and pushed them in our doll buggy. We played Cowboys and Indians with real cap guns and it never made us want to shoot anybody! We rode bicycles (1 speed) and roller skated with the kind you attached to your shoes. My Dad made many of our toys. I especially remember a doll bunk bed, a chalk board and a beautiful doll house. When I was about 8 he bought my sister and I an American Flyer electric train which had a railway mail car (my Dad was a railway postal clerk) and puffed real smoke. It now resides with our youngest daughter, Sarah.
I remember Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs which still can be purchased at
Disney. Times were slower then and toys required imagination.
I loved the song. It took me back through my 78 years which have gone much too quickly. I still just want to “slow down.”
I have fond memories of the sandbox where I could drive my toy cars along the roadways I created in the sand. My love for driving and shifting gears began with a wooden box with a gearshift sticking out of it, made by my dad, of course. I still have my American Flyer train, which now delights young and old alike every Christmas at Regina Health Center.
I do grimace at toys that are meant to impress the parents instead of their kids, like the perfectly modeled miniature cars that run on batteries. Seeing kids driving them around with no need of physical or imaginary effort makes me feel very sad for this generation of youth. Thanks for engaging my memory with this blog.
Paint-by-Number, and assembling plastic bird or animal models. I could work on these things for days at a time! Wish I still had that same focus!
I grew up in the 50-60’s and was thrilled when, at age 8, Santa delivered my new blue two-wheeler bicycle! I also loved my roller skates (the kind you attach to your shoes) and my first transistor radio! Also, I always loved stuffed animals and I especially remember a brown teddy bear with a big pink bow that my mom let me order with cereal box-tops. I also remember a stuffed red horse that served as a pajama pillow and a little yellow giraffe with brown spots and dangly legs that hung from the end of a stick that we once bought while on vacation at a theme park. Oh…and a black derby with a brightly colored feather that came from another theme park on the same vacation! These are special memories! Thanks for prompting them with your blog! The song brought tears to my eyes. Perfect!
Near me is The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. If you are ever in the area, especially with children, come and visit. There are lots of toys there from the past. It’s a great walk down memory lane. You can see the toys that you played with as a child.
Hi Melannie ,
This brought back lots of childhood memories. Growing up in Manhattan, NYC, we played a lot of outdoor games…jump rope, including double dutch, hopscotch , ball games, hide and seek, etc. We played marbles, pick up sticks and jacks. Loved playing outside “until the street lights went on”
My favorite doll was Betsy Wetsy and I loved my large doll house with furniture.
Thanks for the memories and the touching song. Josita
Your blog this week brings back lots of memories! We played with both Silly Putty and PlayDoh. (They are different!) My absolute favorites were not mentioned, though; probably because they are not so much seen as toys as friends: stuffed animals!
Thanks so much for the timely reminder in the song! Exactly what I needed to hear after a busy day and working late. I think anyone with kids in their lives can relate to it, and not just human mothers. In the Disneynature film, “Born in China,” the mother panda seems to feel the same way!
This was particularly meaningful to me today. As you know our dear Kenny passed away on Easter morning. He was 51 years old. He was a terrific son, husband, dad and gramps. Adding to his other two grandchildren, he became gramps to twins just one week before he died.
Kenny loved life and living. When he was very young, we went to the beach at Breezy Point, New York each summer. There he and his brothers played “army men” in the sand every day. Many years later we visited that house in Breezy and guess what? We discovered two green army men still surviving in the sand!!!!
Thanks for supplying messages that bring back wonderful memories.
I also grew up in the 50’s. Do you remember paper dolls? My sister and I loved to play with them. Every summer we bought a new pack of paper dolls and would sit out on the porch and play. Thanks for the memories. Carol
A BIG thank you to all who responded to this blog on toys. I see that this reflection touched a lot of you. It seemed to bring back some wonderful memories. I was especially amazed at how many of you could remember such specific details about your toys. That’s great! Thanks again for responding! Sr. Melannie