Small Talk Tag: Transportation Toys

A New Frontier for Toymaking

Yoshiya Flying Saucer

The mid-twentieth century saw technological advances in everything from nuclear power to televisions and kitchen appliances. Toys too came with all kinds of new features that allowed imaginations to run wild. One of the biggest influences on toys of the 50s and 60s was the addition of a built-in battery power supply. Indeed, this was the dawn of “batteries not included!”

Post-World War II Japan produced some of the earliest examples of battery operated toys on the world market. With an internal power source, toys achieved new capabilities previously unavailable for wind-up toys including extended movement, sounds, and lights. This circa 1960 Yoshiya “Flying Saucer with Space Pilot” is equipped with bump and go action, space noise, and a rotating color wheel—all of which, of course, are very important for space travel!

Rolling Out Adaptive Toys

UNF Adaptive Toy Project

Toys can teach us lots of important life skills: how to run a household, how to change a diaper, and even how to delicately remove a wish bone. While kids are busy playing, toys simultaneously aid fundamental cognitive and motor skill development. As Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is really the work of childhood.”

For some kids with physical or mental disabilities the benefits of play can be harder to come by. Often, store-bought toys don’t accommodate for special conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, Spina Bifida and muscular dystrophy. Enter the Adaptive Toy Project, an initiative through the University of North Florida’s (UNF) Neurodevelopment Systems course that modifies toys for children with disabilities, allowing ease of play. Student teams at UNF have retrofitted motorized toys with adaptive technologies that were custom designed with a specific child in mind. Know a child that would benefit from one of these custom cruisers? Referrals to the Adaptive Toy Project can be made through a licensed physical therapist.
Photo: Courtesy of University of North Florida.

A New Frontier for Fun

Vintage Space Toys

In the 1930s, science fiction captivated the American imagination with the fantastical outer space adventures of Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon… and we’ve been hooked ever since. After World War II, the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union turned the public’s attention to the very real possibility of traveling to the moon and beyond. So, not surprisingly, toymakers both at home and abroad capitalized on the “final frontier” of imaginative play.

Space toys during the mid-twentieth century came in a variety of forms. Some were more realistic like molded plastic NASA playsets, while others seemed to be ripped from the pages of a sci-fi comic book like flying saucers and outer space robots. The period also witnessed a shift from domestic toy production to imported Japanese-made toys. For example, T/m’s tin “Flying Saucer with Space Pilot” was made by Japanese firm Yoshiya, but bears the name of its American importer, Cragston. We’ll explore some of the intergalactic features of this toy soon, so set your phasors to be stunned!

Pedal to the Metal

Pedal Cars

T/m’s recent renovation included space for two temporary exhibit galleries. The first exhibit in the larger gallery focuses on America’s obsession with shiny metal bodies on four wheels. Pedal-powered cars, boats, and trucks grew in popularity in the 1950s as the rising American middle class moved to the suburbs. And as we all know, cars and the suburbs go hand in hand. Thunderbirds, Packards, and Dodges introduced children to the freedom and responsibility of the open road.

Pedal to the Metal: Pedal Cars and American Car Culture features cars from T/m’s collection, the collections of several local individuals, and vehicles from the Smith Collection at the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska. Some of our personal favorites include the 1955 Good Humor Truck, 1941 Steelcraft Pursuit Plane, 1960 Deluxe “Flat Face” Dude Wagon, and the 1953 Torpedo. Pedal to the Metal rolls out August 28, 2016, so you have plenty of time to cruise in and see it!

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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