Small Talk Tag: Toy

I Had One of Those!

minnesota history center toys

If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer (or even if you’re not), chances are you remember making a Slinky crawl down the stairs, baking a tiny cake with a light bulb, or putting Mr. Potato Head’s ear where his mouth normally appears. Childhood experiences like these are all brought back to life in a special exhibit at The Minnesota History Center called Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

After World War II, the mid-century decades saw cultural advances that affected the way Americans work, live, and play. Everything from the rise of car culture, to the space race, to Saturday morning cartoons found their way onto the living room floor in the form of toys and imaginative play. Although the exhibit ends on January 4, curators have created a special companion book outlining all of the exhibit’s toy treasures.

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

Sew-Handy Dandy

toy singer sewing machine

It’s just about that time of year again: time to make your New Year’s Resolution. Why not pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill this year? Maybe it’s time to dust off that old sewing machine you inherited and give it a whirl! In 1910 the Singer Manufacturing Co. began producing Singer model no. 20. Nicknamed the Sew-Handy in the 1950s, it became the most popular child-sized sewing machine. Since the machine was simply a miniature version of a full-size sewing machine, it was also marketed as a lightweight travel machine for adults. Originally sold for about $3, it features a hand crank that created a simple chain-stitch.

The Singer Sew-Handy remained in production until 1975 with only 4 variations. This Singer Sew-Handy from the T/m collection appears to be a second generation machine dating somewhere from 1914 and 1926 based upon the number of spokes on the hand crank. We wonder how many fabulous doll wardrobes were created by young seamstresses practicing their skills on a machine like this one.

Toytisserie Turnout

toy sculptures

We put out the call, and metropolitan Kansas City answered! Earlier this fall, we placed collection barrels at several area libraries, businesses, and schools to collect an assortment of small toys needed for a monumental new sculpture at T/m that we’re calling the Toytisserie. After just a month of collecting, we ended up with nearly six 55-gallon collection barrels filled with toys!

In order to get an idea of what we’re working with, we first cleaned and sorted the barrels of toys with the help of our volunteers. We ended up with dozens of categories; from baby doll bottles to Barbie brushes and Lincoln Logs to LEGO people—hundreds of small toys will get a new lease on life as part of the two-story sculpture. A BIG thank you to the folks who donated as well as to the businesses and organizations that hosted a collection site. Stay tuned as the Toytisserie pieces come together!

Getting the Lead Out

Lead Soldiers with Mold

December brings holiday cheer, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and toy safety! The nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, Prevent Blindness America has declared December to be Safe Toys and Gifts Month “in order to keep the holiday season joyful for everyone.” Toy safety is a top priority, and organizations like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have also released safety tips and guidelines for buying and playing with toys.

Safe toys haven’t always been the standard. In the past, kids played with tiny steam engines, used candles to light up the interiors of their toy train stations and dollhouses, and even handled dangerous lead to cast their own toy soldiers. Anyone could buy blocks of lead and use a casting set to create toy armies and figures. This was marketed as an “easy and safe” activity…at least until the harmful side effects of lead were discovered and safety regulations were enforced in the 1960s and ‘70s. According to this article in Popular Science, just one of these lead soldiers contains enough lead to render several million toys unfit for sale in the U.S. by today’s standards. We don’t think Santa will be bringing any kids a lead casting set for Christmas this year!

Keep on Truckin’

hess toy trucks

East Coasters will notice a big change after this holiday season. A roadside staple, Hess gas stations will all change their name to Speedway. Why are we mentioning this on Small Talk? Because it’s also the last year the Hess’s classic green trucks will be available for purchase at their stations. It’s truly the end of an era! Hess gas stations began carrying small toys during the 1960 holiday season. As a survivor of the Great Depression, founder Leon Hess desired to create small, affordable toy cars that came complete with batteries. The Hess 1964 Tanker Trailer sold for less than five dollars.

Fifty years later, Hess has established itself as a desirable outlet for collectors and children’s playthings in the United States. In light of the celebration, the company is offering a commemorative heavy-duty, flatbed truck with modern additions like motion and button-activated sounds, retractable landing gear, and folding wings. For more modern Hess fans, the company has also created a space cruiser complete with a large cargo bay that houses a small scouter plane. Although the trucks will roll out of the stations forever, don’t fret, the Hess line of transportation toys will still be available for purchase online.

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