Small Talk Tag: Toy

The War to End All Wars

Metal Soldier

One hundred years ago, the “war to end all wars” began. Now known as World War I (and not even close to the last world conflict), it would grow to involve 30 nations, 65 million soldiers, and 4 years of warfare. The war touched every aspect of life in the United States, including play.

Toy armies evolved from figures of men on horseback with bayonets to soldiers equipped with rifles and machine guns. In the 1930s, the United States-based Manoil Manufacturing Company began to produce metal toy soldiers. This painted soldier, known as a “tommy gunner,” holds modern weaponry and poses in a combat position. He is one of T/m’s many examples of toy soldiers that reflect the conflict in which they fought, even if it was just a battle of the imagination.

Pint-Sized “Painted Ladies”

Bliss Dollhouse Close Up

Queen Anne Style is one of the most recognizable styles of Victorian architecture in America. With castle-like turrets, colorful “painted lady” details, and grand porches, they’re hard to miss. These stately homes often required teams of skilled builders, carpenters and craftsmen to construct, which of course came at a high cost. Often the style of choice for the lumber barons and railroad tycoons of the day, these romantic mansions captured the hearts of Americans coast to coast— and still do today!

Not surprisingly, the popular, late 19th century style also appeared in dollhouses. But how did toy manufacturers shrink the intricate Queen Anne Victorian details for mass dollhouse production? Toy makers at the R. Bliss Manufacturing Company had the perfect solution. Instead of hand carving and applying all of the spindles, lattice work, and shingles (just think of the choking hazards!), the dollhouse’s ornate details were printed on chromolithographed paper facades. These colorful details applied to the sturdy dollhouse structure made for a perfectly playable and mass-producible Queen Anne dollhouse. After all, what little girl wouldn’t want a dollhouse fit for a queen?

A Match Made In (Marketing) Heaven

Texaco Station

Was your choice of breakfast cereal ever swayed by the prize inside? If so, you were responding to a marketing campaign featuring toys. From the first Kellogg’s cereal promotion to the Ovaltine secret decoder, toys have long been used as promotional products. In the 1960s, Texaco teamed up with the toy company Buddy-“L” for one such marketing strategy.

Buddy-“L” produced a plastic toy Texaco service station set, complete with tiny oil cans and a sign for the restrooms. Texaco placed advertisements in numerous newspapers and magazines promoting an exclusive offer for the station set: adults could pick up a special coupon at their local Texaco station, to buy a toy station set for a discount by mail. Texaco hoped that customers would get their cars checked out while picking up a coupon and Buddy-”L” hoped that regular Texaco customers would purchase the discounted toy. It was a win-win situation: Buddy-“L” sold more toys, Texaco got more customers, and kids nationwide got to play station attendant. Now that’s a match made in (marketing) heaven!

Josephine’s Story

Josephine Bird Dollhouse Attic

The Josephine Bird Dollhouse is one of the most intact, antique dollhouses in the T/m collection. In previous blog posts, we’ve explored the bookcase-style dollhouse and some of its contents, which were originally owned and played with by young Josephine Bird in 1890s Kansas City. One of the many reasons why we love dollhouses is because they are time capsules that have a lot to tell about their original owners. So, what did this time capsule (with a little research to fill in the blanks) tell us about Josephine?

Born in 1889, Josephine was the daughter of one of the founders of the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store (E.B.T.) in Kansas City. As a child, she repurposed several pieces of E.B.T. merchandise in her dollhouse. As a young lady, she went to finishing school in Florence, Italy. Some of the treasures in the dollhouse’s attic are almost certainly souvenirs she collected on her travels. As a finishing touch, several feathered friends perch atop this stately dollhouse, reflecting Josephine’s last name!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Mechanical Oarsman

Patented in 1869 by Nathan S. Warner, this mechanical oarsman toy was the first of its kind. Warner worked for a sewing machine manufacturer and used his technical know-how to secure design patents for several clockwork-mechanized toys. The patent allowed E.R. Ives and Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut to produce this mechanized, mustached rower toy, which became a hit among kids and adults alike.

Once the toy is wound up and placed in water, the oarsman’s torso moves back and forth along with his arms, which are attached to the oars. The movement of the oars propels the boat through the water. When the rudder on the back of the boat is turned, the oarsman will row in a circle; when the rudder is straight, he rows in a straight line. Mechanical oarsman toys were manufactured by several other firms as well, so don’t be surprised if you come across some interesting variations. In fact, radio controlled versions are still manufactured today!

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