Small Talk Tag: Toy

Decision 2016: The Nominees

Toy Hall of Fame

Another election year is upon us, and the stakes are especially high this time! Yes, that’s right, it’s time once again for Americans to fulfill their civic duty and vote for the next inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame. While we wouldn’t dare make a political endorsement here, we will introduce you to the candidates.

The polls are in and the race has been narrowed down to twelve. This year, a rainbow of toys including coloring books, Care Bears, Transformers, and Uno make for some colorful options. Also in the running are classic board games Clue and Dungeons and Dragons. Of course, who can deny the contributions that perennial favorites Nerf, pinball, and Fisher-Price Little People have made? We’re not sure which states they’re from, but the red versus blue Rock’em Sock’em Robots are also duking it out for the prize. Some unconventional candidates have emerged this year as well. The tactile fun of bubble wrap appeals to all generations of constituents. And it goes without saying that “swing voters” will undoubtedly cast their votes for, well, the swing. Stay tuned for election results this November!
Photo: Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York.

Tonka Tough

Tonka Truck

Before trucks were built Ford tough, Tonka toy trucks were strong enough for an elephant to stand on (we’re not kidding… it was the focus of a 1970s advertising campaign for the company founded on the idea that “a toy shouldn’t break just because a child plays with it”). Originally named Mound Metalcraft for the company’s home in Mound, Minnesota, the name was changed in 1955 to Tonka Trucks (“tanka” meaning big in Sioux) when the company shifted from tie racks and garden tools to metal construction toys.

And their first toy wasn’t even a dump truck! The manufacturing lines first turned out cranes and steam shovels, selling 37,000. By 1955, demand for the realistic, durable, and heavy, automobile-grade, 20-gauge steel trucks took off with baby boomer parents, and the excess of postwar steel made them cheap to produce.

When the Mighty Dump Truck did come along, it weighed in at 11 pounds, complete with solid rubber tires. Since then, an estimated 15 million have been sold. While T/m’s circa 1955 version isn’t yellow, it was still the go-to for dumping and hauling sand in the neighborhood sandbox.

To the Batcave!

Toy and Action Figure Museum

This unique attraction was born from a citywide effort to revitalize the downtown district of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. With a little “BAM!” and a bit of “POW!” The Toy and Action Figure Museum opened in 2005 as the first museum devoted to the art and sculpting of action figures. The museum’s diorama showcases their collection of over 13,000 action figures, with an entire room—appropriately called the Batcave—devoted to the evolution of Batman action figures. One visitor described the experience as a “Where’s Waldo?” of action figures.

The museum’s mascot, Rivet, overlooks the museum, which invites the young and young at heart to find their inner action figure in the museum’s playroom, complete with capes and costumes. The museum also houses The Oklahoma Cartoonist Collection, highlighting the work of artists inducted into the Oklahoma Cartoonist Hall of Fame. The museum’s newest exhibit juxtaposes action figures with America’s favorite fashion doll. Lucky, Barbie!
Photo: Jim Merithew/

Playful Collecting

Mary Harris Francis

The new exhibits at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures would not be complete without paying homage to the women who started it all: Barbara Marshall and Mary Harris Francis. Nestled amongst the toy exhibits on the second floor is the first antique dollhouse acquired by Mary Harris Francis in 1974—the New Rochelle Mystery House—and a fire station and pair of trucks from her husband’s childhood.

Mary Harris Francis never lost the connection she felt to her own childhood and this sense of playfulness guided her collecting. She was most attracted to objects that had been handmade and well-loved, leaving T/m a collection of toys with rich provenances that are detailed here on Small Talk and in the museum. Francis passed away in 2005, but her curatorial acumen will always be remembered through one of the nation’s largest collections of antique toys at T/m.

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.

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