Small Talk Tag: Toy

The Nifty Toys of the Fifties

1950s toys

If you build it, they will come. And what they wanted (yup, that’s you, our visitors), were the toys they played with as a kid. While seeing the toys you played with behind glass may make you feel old, it is pretty awesome to see old friends again. We promise you’ll pick right up where you left off. Gotta Have It! Iconic Toys from Past Decades begins with 1950s toys.

Saturday mornings in front of the television set changed advertising, allowing companies to demonstrate products and directly reach their target market: kids. And the discovery of polypropylene made plastic toys inexpensive and more interactive. Barbie came to town with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. They were joined by failed-manufacturing-ventures-turned-toys in Silly Putty and Play-Doh. And the decade wouldn’t be complete without Matchbox cars, Erector Sets, and dolls that talked and wet, Chatty Cathy and Betsy Wetsy.

LACMA’s Miniature Metropolis

Metropolis II

We’re obviously huge fans of kinetic sculptures that incorporate toys, hence T/m’s two-story Toytisserie. Although it’s not in a museum of toys or miniatures, artist Chris Burden’s large installation Metropolis II has been amazing visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) since 2011. Metropolis II is a fury of 1,100 matchbox cars whirring by at a scale speed of 230 miles per hour on a complex system of tracks around a futuristic miniature skyline.

Witnessing the sculpture in person in the LACMA galleries evokes feelings of wonder and awe, but with a tinge of anxiety, similar to driving on a real-life multi-lane freeway in heavy traffic (after all, toys are teaching tools for life, you know!). It took Burden and his studio team over four years of research and design to get all the components exactly right—even so, a team of attendants is on hand in case a car derails or jams up the track. The sculpture runs intermittently for four hours every day at LACMA.
Photo: Chris Burden, Metropolis II, 2010, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, courtesy of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation, © Chris Burden Estate

A Rare Bird

pedal car

Americans have been completely enamored of the automobile since the first ones rolled off the assembly lines and onto the streets. Both adults and children were captivated by the “horseless buggy,” as evidenced by this 1920s toy pedal car. Although wheeled mobility toys existed before this pedal car, Schmelzer’s Red Bird definitely came with all the modern stylishness of its motorized, full-scale counterparts.

Schmelzer’s Red Bird was manufactured by the Sidway Topliff Company of Washington, Pennsylvania for a department store here in Kansas City named Schmelzer’s Arms Co. Some of the features on this bad boy include yellow pinstripes, a winged hood ornament, and a hand brake that operates a stop sign in the rear above the license plate. The Red Bird is on view with other classic pedal cars in our temporary exhibit Pedal to the Metal: Pedal Cars and American Car Culture through August 28, 2016.

Risking it All

Game of Risk

How many board games let you “travel the world” without leaving your dining room table? Well, there are a few… but not many of them let you conquer it! Originally called La Conquête du Monde (The Conquest of the World) by inventor and French film director Albert Lamorisse in 1957, the board game was brought to American audiences in 1959 as Risk!. The game of Risk’s iconic design consists of a rainbow of army game pieces and a board with fictitious territories (fun fact: real-life Afghanistan is not actually within the boundaries of the game board Afghanistan!).

Although it’s been through many modifications, the general game play has remained the same over the last 57 years. Players take turns rolling dice in order to defeat other players’ armies and effectively take over each territory on the board. Attackers in the game get three dice rolls, while defenders get only two. For very serious game players (we don’t recommend taking board games too seriously), the ability to strategize based on statistical analysis can provide a leg up, similar to playing chess.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Nettie’s Dollhouse

Nettie Wells Dollhouse

Many of the nineteenth century dollhouses in T/m’s collection reflect the wealth and grandeur of the Gilded Age. One of our most treasured dollhouses from this time, however, isn’t grand at all—in fact, it’s fairly humble!

The smartly built Nettie Wells dollhouse was made for a middle class Kansas City girl by her father in the 1880s. Although it only has a couple rooms, the small wooden house has beautiful details like scalloped trim, starburst motifs, and a hinged roof in the back of the house allowing for play and easy storage. Like the larger dollhouses in our collection, Nettie’s dollhouse was a teaching tool for her adult life. Sadly, Nettie had to assume that role at the age of just twelve when her mother fell ill. It was at that time that she packed up her dollhouse and its contents, never to be played with by anyone again. Nettie’s granddaughter donated the dollhouse and its contents to the museum in 1994, giving us a rare glimpse into Nettie’s childhood over a century ago.

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