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.
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!