Did you get a chance to play with your kids or grandkids this week? If you did, what kind of “play” did you do together? What “toys” did you share in the fun? I bet in the mix was some kind of electronic gadget such as ipad, computer, or TV, right? Or were you among the few who actually brought out an actual physical board game or cards of years gone by? Were you both able to get outside under the sunshine to kick a ball around?
From previous article, we learned in the first half of the 20th century kids played outdoors a lot with their often times homemade ball and bat. And their imaginations were at the center of their “play.” It came natural to them most out of necessity of the times where families couldn’t afford to buy lots of toys, particularly kids of coal mining families.
But that didn’t stop kids from grabbing the moments between school and jobs they did at home and in factories around the nation. Let’s not forget the paper routes that dotted the land before TV, ipads, and smart phones game into “play.” So, let’s see how kids played in the second half of the 20th century. Keep in mind that even in the first half of the 20th century, things did improve for many children. By the 1920s and 30s most were healthier, better fed, clothed, and more educated. In the early 1900s children general left school at 12 years old; then in 1918 it was raised to 14.
Between 1910 and 1940, “high school” education rapidly increased in cities and neighborhoods. There was also a shift to more local oversight with open enrollment to blue-collar families. By 1947 children left school at 15 years old. During early 20th Century, it was common for high schools to have entrance exams restricting entrance to fewer than five percent of the population in preparation for college. Most were expected to be ready for a job or a family after junior high school. By 1950, comprehensive high schools became common, giving free education to any student who stayed in school for 12 years and received a diploma with a minimal grade point average.
In the mix of all this, kids had their toys and more of them as the decades rolled on.
However, during World War II most toy factories were turned over to war production. Yet, according to Tara Winner (The Home Front: Toy Production during World War II, Blog, Museum of Play.org) the War Production Board’s (WPB) orders “. . . and related material shortages inspired toy manufacturers to come up with creative ways to continue production. Paper dolls, puzzles, and games increased in popularity thanks to their widespread availability. Toys, board games, and hobby sets with military and war motifs also became standard playthings.” Creativity abounded using heavy-duty paper stock for wartime freight train toys.
Starting in the 1950s Lego became a popular toy. Mr. Potato Head was invented in 1952. The skateboard was invented in 1958, and Barbie dolls in 1959. From the 1950s and beyond, radio, TV, then the Internet were brought into children's homes and expanded exponentially just about any game and toy you could imagine. and because times were better financially, most families could afford them. It seemed everyone wanted to be the first on their block to have “it.” The fascination with these new technologies, programs, toys, and games were designed especially for children. Your kids become a select target market.
Other toys that became favorites in the US from the 1960s on were Toy Trolls, Etch-A-Sketch, Easy Bake Oven, G.I. Joe, Operation game, Twister; 1970s Skateboarding, Hungry Hungry Hippos; 1980s Cabbage Patch Kids doll, Trivial Pursuit, American Girl dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Super Soaker, 1990s Rollerblading, Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, and Rescue Heroes.
Guess what is one of the most favorites entering the 21st century? Here’s a hint . . . Yu-Gi-Oh. The next article will cover our 21st century game and toy world transformation on every kid’s mind and imagination! Want to have a little more history . . . check out these resources:
- Children at Play, An American History, by Howard P. Chudacoff (2008)
- The Home Front: Toy Production during World War II, Blog by Tara Winner (6/11/2013), http://www.museumofplay.org/blog/play-stuff/2013/06/the-home-front-toy-production-during-world-war-ii/
- 20th Century Toys & Games, http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0768872.html
- Most Popular Toys Of The Last 100 Years, http://www.forbes.com/2005/12/01/mattel-hasbro-toys-cx_lh_1202feat_ls.html