Toys from the 20th Century, or Mr. Potato Head had a Son?!
Toronto Star Photograph Archive
Like other objects, toys can tell us a lot about the times in which they were made. The entry for toys in Britannica Online (get free access with a library card) contains several interesting facts about the history of toys -- here are a few of them:
- Dolls, balls, kites and yo-yos are thought to be among the first toys
- Clay animals on wheels date back to 2,500 BCE in India
- "The earliest types of play probably developed from the instinct for self-preservation... one of the first things taught to the young was the use of weapons"
- Dolls and figures have been used to help children learn religious stories
- Learning folk culture through handmade toys declined with industrialization.
Below is a short visual history of toys in the 20th century. The images come from Canadian product catalogues (like Eaton's catalogues from Toronto) and from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive -- all of them found in the Toronto Public Library's amazing Digital Archive.
1900 - 1950
From 1900-1901 Nerlich & Co. catalogue
The Nursery Rhyme ABC, a book in a series of Warne's playtime toy books, 1903
From Simpson's 1918-1919 catalogue. It reads "'Baby Ella,' 16 inches high, with the prettiest smiling face, and eyes that will go to sleep. Has real hair wig. Price, delivered... $4.69"
Left: Cover of Eaton's 1920-1921 catalogue. Right: Toy from inside the catalogue, with a description that reads "Tiddly Winks. A six-player set, consists of wood cup and colored bone flips, both large and small. Packed in strong box. Price... 35 cents"
From 1933-1934 Wilson's Winter Sports Catalogue, page 96
From the 1933-1934 Wilson's Winter Sports Catalogue, page 94
Left: Cover of The Money Maker catalogue from 1935. Right: Full page of toys inside the catalogue.
Toy machine-gun. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1943
1950 - 1999
Puddykins doll. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1959
Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1962
Klacker balls. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1971
Hula-Hoops. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1971
Baby Potato Head (son of Mr. Potato Head). Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1978
My Puppy Puddles, "Water in one end; out the other." Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1980
Prairie Pet. Text on crate reads "Tumbleweed / A Piece of the West". Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1983
Fisher-Price Gas and Go Service Centre. Courtesy Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1983
GoBots before and after transformation. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1984
Master of the Universe action figures. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1984
Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1987
The Orbiter. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1991
Devil sticks. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1994
"Tickle Me" Sesame Street toys. Toronto Star Photograph Archives, 1997
Beanie Babies, animal toys with pellets for stuffing. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1998
Dive deeper into the history of toys with books from Toronto Public Library:
Toy Time!: From Hula Hoops to He-Man to Hungry Hippos: A Look Back at the Most-Beloved Toys of Decades Past
- Also available as an ebook
Toys!: Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry
I Am Plastic: The Designer Toy Explosion
Do you have nostalgia for toys from your childhood? Let us know in the comments!