Small Talk Tag: Toy

An Optical Spectacle

Magic Lantern

For those old enough to remember a teacher using an overhead projector as a visual aid for class lessons, isn’t it hard to imagine that device being used for entertainment? Projection technology in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, brought a sense of wonder and enjoyment to the age-old art of storytelling. Invented in 1658 by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, the magic lantern earned its name due to projections seeming supernatural.

The contraption uses a candle or oil lamp to project a variety of glass slide images through a lens onto the wall. During magic lantern shows, a lively orator or “lanternist” would use a series of slides while telling an amazing tale to audiences in a dimly lit room. Eventually, smaller toy versions like this Magic Lantern were developed for use at home. Ultimately, the projection technology used in magic lanterns and other optical toys was adapted for early “moving pictures” at the movie theater.

The Giving Brick Gives Back

The Giving Brick

The wonderful thing about T/m’s collection is that it reaches beyond socioeconomic barriers; everyone played in some way, whether it was with the latest, flashiest toy or a hand-me-down stuffed animal. A new Kansas City nonprofit is working to make sure that every kid has the chance to explore the limitless possibilities for imaginative play, cooperation, problem-solving, and creativity found in LEGOs. The Giving Brick takes boxes of long-forgotten LEGOs out of closets, basements, and attics and into the hands of kids in the foster system.

The Giving Brick accepts donations of used LEGOs, and not only cleans and organizes them, but rebuilds complete LEGO sets based on retail LEGO sets and packages them in a nice red box complete with reprinted instructions for building the set. Have extra LEGOs lying around? Don’t step on them, drop them off at one of the organization’s many partner drop-off sites or mail them in today!
Photo: The Giving Brick.

The Birth of Bye-Lo Baby

Bye-Lo Baby

With baby dolls going on adventures to the playground, being lovingly squeezed through scary, dark nights, and transported in backpacks, strollers, and tricycle baskets, it’s hard to imagine that they were ever anything but newborn look-a-likes made out of plastic. But they were! The first truly realistic baby doll, the Bye-Lo Baby, was produced in 1920. Before then, dolls were mainly little girls and stylish women made of stiff, hard materials.

Creator Grace Storey Putnam modeled the Bye-Lo Baby after a three-day-old sleeping infant at the Salvation Army Day Nursery in Los Angeles. And her doll couldn’t have come at a better time; plummeting birthrates after World War I meant children had fewer siblings, so parents sought out realistic dolls that could encourage nurturing skills. The cuddly doll had a hand-painted bisque head, a cloth body (the cuddly part), and glass sleep eyes, and was dressed in a white christening dress. Bye-Lo Babies were a commercial success, produced until 1952 in various materials: bisque, composition, celluloid, and rubber.

Neato Toys of the Nineties

Toys of the Nineties

The crazes continue as the 1990s decade of Gotta Have It: Iconic Toys of Past Decades recalls Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies, Tamagotchi, and Pokemon. At the top of every child’s Christmas list in 1998 was Furby, a battery-operated, highly-animated (and very annoying if you had a sibling who forgot to turn Furby off!) toy that spoke its own language: Furbish. With the ability to learn 800 English phrases, Furby was believed to be so intelligent that it was banned from National Security Agency offices for fear the toy could unknowingly divulge state secrets.

Following the Cabbage Patch craze, another toy incited insanity in 1996 when it sold for $30 and thousands of dollars in the same year. He was red, fuzzy, and giggled and shook when you tickled him… Tickle Me Elmo! Tyco Toys’ shrewd promotion of the Sesame Street character resulted in the sale of at least one million in 1996. But the demand was even greater. Stores sold out within hours of stocking the toys, leading parents to shell out big bucks for Elmo at auction.

Entertaining Toys of the Eighties

Toys of the eighties

Now Gotta Have It: Iconic Toys of Past Decades moon walks into the 1980s. How many children’s shows from the decade can you name? How about popular 1980s children’s toys? See a trend here?! The answers are the same! Hasbro, Mattel, and Playmates capitalized on the success of popular cartoons or vice versa, drove toy sales by bankrolling new shows. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles introduced us to a new language—“cowabunga and “totally tubular”—while Masters of the Universe gave us the power. Rainbow Brite infused the world with color and Care Bears wore their emotions on their stomachs.

It wasn’t the first time, and it is probably safe to say that it won’t be the last time, a toy took over the nation’s attention; Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage for Christmas 1983. So much so that a series of violent customer outbursts at stores across the United States came to be called the “Cabbage Patch riots.” To avoid the situation, some retailers opted to sell the dolls in a lottery system, while one individual opted to fly to London to get his daughter the coveted doll.

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