It’s Friday, so I thought we’d go with a particularly fun topic today… and what’s more fun than toys? (Umm… don’t answer that). I discussed Barbie a couple of weeks ago – apparently I’m on a toy kick lately – so I left her out of this one. But don’t worry; I’ve got 10 other classics sure to inspire a little nostalgia.
1. Lincoln Logs were invented by John Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. The original instructions included a how to construct a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s cabin, obviously, but also directions on how to build Uncle Tom’s cabin.
2. Tinkertoys were invented after a stonemason saw kids being thoroughly entertained by building things with pencils and spools of thread.
3. Hula Hoops have been around forever in various formats, but the “official” Wham-O toy was invented in 1958. The inventors promoted it by going around to various playgrounds and parks giving children samples and showing them how to use it. Something tells me two random men showing up in a park handing out toys wouldn’t go over that well today…
4. Sea Monkeys are real (and that’s what they look like). I always thought they were a scam because I never once saw living Sea Monkeys swimming around in their little plastic home. They were “invented” in 1957 by Harold von Braunhut, the guy who invented X-Ray specs, but they are really just brine shrimp which are ideal for packaging because they enter a natural state of suspended animation in certain (shippable) environments. When kids release the “monkeys” into the prepared water, they “hatch.” The reason they’re so active (supposedly active… I’m still bitter that mine never worked) is because one of the packets you dump into the aquarium contains a type of salt that increases the sexual activity of the little critters. Yep. Think about that the next time your kid is fascinated by Sea Monkeys.
5. Play-Doh was first sold as a wallpaper cleaner. How’s that for weird? It was rolled it on the walls to remove coal dust.
6. Troll dolls were created in 1949 by a Danish fisherman who needed a cheap Christmas gift for his daughter because he couldn’t afford to buy anything. He used sheep’s wool for the hair. Thomas Dam’s dolls caught on; thus the original dolls were called Dam Dolls. I got in on the whole troll craze in the early ‘90s; I think they still reside somewhere in my parents’ basement. I remember some of their names… I believe Dud the Surfer was my favorite. That’s not a typo: Dud. Not Dude. He had his own theme song. I’m not entirely sure why I’m sharing this.
7. Slinky was invented by Naval engineer Richard James. He knocked a coil off of a shelf when he was working to develop springs that could keep ship instruments stable in choppy waters. The spring did what a Slinky does… it stepped down to a stack of books, then to the table, and then to the floor, where it righted itself into a cylinder. James knew it would be a great toy and tests by neighborhood kids proved him right.
8. LEGOs were invented by Ole Kirk Christiansen, a master carpenter who lived in Denmark. The word comes from the Danish words LEg and GOdt, which together means “play well.” They later discovered that in Latin, Lego means “I put together.”
9. Raggedy Ann and Andy were created by writer and illustrator Johnny Gruelle. Ann was created as a doll in 1915 for Gruelle’s daughter – he reportedly named the doll after two books poems from a James Whitcomb Riley book – “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphan Annie.” Ann inspired Gruelle to write stories about her adventures, and in 1918, Raggedy Ann Stories was released. Her brother, Andy, showed up in 1920. I had a Raggedy Ann doll and she scared the crap out of me. Most dolls did. I broke the arm of a porcelain doll once, then shut her in the closet because I was convinced that she was going to kill me in the middle of the night for breaking her. To this day I have to have the closet doors closed when I sleep. Have I ever mentioned that my first horror movie was Dolls and I was in third grade? Let the psychoanalysis begin!
10. Sock Monkeys. The sock monkeys that we have come to know and love today – the ones made with Red-Heel socks – are thought to have come about in 1932. The distinctive red heel (the monkey’s mouth) was given to the socks so customers would know they were getting authentic Rockford socks. When the Nelson Knitting Company discovered that their socks were being used across the country in this arts-and-crafts movement, they won the design patent for the sock monkey pattern and started including it in the packaging of their socks.
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