Small Talk Tag: Inspiration

Time’s Most Influential Toys

Time Magazine Most Influential

Last year, Time magazine interviewed toy historians and experts to come up with the most influential toys of all time. They defined influential as toys that had the biggest impact on the toy industry and the world at large.

The list included a lot of toys that were “firsts:” Chatty Cathy was the first talking doll. G.I. Joe was the first doll for boys… oops… we mean “action figure.” The Easy Bake Oven allowed kids to make edible food for the first time. Doc McStuffins was the first black doll to become popular among kids of all races. And Cabbage Patch dolls were the first toys not tied to popular culture that everyone had to have.

Others like Leap Pad, Rubik’s Cube, View-Master, Star Wars figurines, Super Soaker, Nerf Bow and Arrow, Barbie, and LEGO made the list for their sheer popularity, for becoming not only toys, but collectibles, or for starting a movement. That’s a powerful bunch of toys.

A Bear in Brooklyn

michtom teddy bear

You might be familiar with the story of how the teddy bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt. After refusing to shoot a defenseless (and already maimed) bear, the incident was forever immortalized in a November 1903 newspaper cartoon. The compassionate depiction of Roosevelt captured the hearts of Americans, including a particular Russian Jewish immigrant couple in New York.

Shop owners Morris and Rose Michtom ran a small penny goods store in Brooklyn. After seeing the famous newspaper cartoon, Rose was so inspired she created a plush bear to put in their store window and named him “Teddy’s bear.” Dozens of shoppers began asking if the bear was for sale, and Rose became worried about marketing an item using the president’s name, so Morris mailed the original to the White House with a letter asking permission. Roosevelt doubted it would matter much and consented, giving rise to one of the most famous toys in history. Today, one of the original Michtom bears is in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Photo: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.

All Hail the Marble King

Marble King Marbles

It’s probably no surprise that most of the toys we play with today aren’t made in America anymore. What might be surprising to hear is that some U.S. toy companies are still going strong! In Paden City, West Virginia, Marble King has been manufacturing marbles since 1949. Founder Barry Pink had made a living selling marbles for over 30 years when he decided to jump into the manufacturing business during the heyday of the marble-playing craze.

While “knuckling down” may not have the same appeal for today’s kids as it did in the 20th century, the secret to Marble King’s success might be their ability to diversify. It turns out marbles have many different uses that aren’t all fun and games. For instance, marbles can be used to clean out industrial pipes. And you know that rattling noise inside a spray paint can? Yep, it’s a marble—likely made by Marble King.
Photo: Courtesy of Marble King.

77 Years Young

Veach's Toy Station

It is hard to visit The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures and not take a trip down memory lane. What is more nostalgic than toys? An old toy store on a Midwest Main Street! Veach’s Toy Station opened in 1938 in Richmond, Indiana as a general five-and-dime that sold toys during the holiday season. Although it is now strictly devoted to toys, locals insist that Veach’s hasn’t changed much in its 77 years.

The store is now being run by the third generation of the Veach family. The 16,000-square-foot store stocks American made toys from small companies. And if that wasn’t enough, the second floor is a “wonderland” of all things electric train. Road trip anyone?
Photo courtesy of Veach’s Toy Station.

Batteries Not Included

classic wooden toys

Think of all the toys you’ve played with that came with the caveat, “batteries not included.” Bummer, right? The sheer disappointment that ensued after opening a new gift only to realize its inability to function without batteries isn’t easily forgotten!

While battery-operated and other electronic toys continue to captivate kids (and adults), a trend to revive analog or “slow toys” has emerged. Combine that with recent consumer safety issues from toys made abroad and the result is Americans are once again smitten with the wooden toys of yesteryear. One of the perennial favorites, Lincoln Logs, has returned 80% of production back to the U.S. after being made in China for nearly 60 years. Pennsylvania-based Channel Craft has built an entire catalog of toys that your grandparents or even great-grandparents likely played with. Can the simple joys of tops, train whistles, boomerangs, and yo-yos divert our attention from Angry Birds or Nintendo 3DS? Maybe for a bit. One thing’s certain: they’ll still be around when electronic toys’ batteries run out of juice!
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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