I have written in the past about toys from the 1960s-1970s that would not pass today’s more stringent safety standards. I have also written about how much I loved picking out toys from the Sears Wish Book every holiday season. This post is a tribute to simple toys that are still around today, despite the incredible technological innovations children have at their fingertips. Children these days are often computer literate to some degree before they are out of diapers! They are playing video games and Wii as little tykes and many have tablets with tons of apps. Yet these simple toys have endured for ages and appear to be just as beloved as they were back in the Stone Ages when I was a child!
Designed by Eleanor Abbott, Candy Land was acquired by Milton Bradley Company (now Hasbro) and first introduced in 1949. My personal love for this game came from the visuals – I loved the candy graphics that appeared on the Candy Land board and little cards, no doubt due to the sweet tooth that was nurtured by my dad. My nostalgia for this game is tied strictly to the visual elements, because the game itself was rather basic and simplistic. I don’t like the newer graphics which look tacky and ostentatious. I am not surprised that a VCR version and electronic version were released in 1986 and 1998, respectively. Licensed versions include Winnie the Pooh, Dora the Explorer, Disney Princesses, and SpongeBob.
Mr. Potato Head
I don’t remember my parents buying Mr. Potato Head for me, but my younger sister had it and so did my daughter, who was born in 1987. It was invented and patented by George Lerner in 1949, who sold it for $5,000 to a food company who distributed it as plastic premium parts in breakfast cereal. In 1951, Lerner showed the idea to a small school supply and toy business called Hassenfeld Brothers (later changed to Hasbro). They saw great potential and bought the rights from the cereal company. Early versions contained hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, four noses, three hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight felt pieces resembling facial hair to be stuck into real vegetables.
In 1953, Hasbro made a family man out of him with the addition of Mrs. Potato Head, a son Spud, and a daughter Yam. Government regulations required stricter standards and parents complained about rotting vegetables, so in 1964, Hasbro introduced a version with plastic vegetables. In 2006, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a voluntary recall of three different Halloween-themed sets, which equated to 97,000 sets. The recall was due to small parts that posed a choking hazard for young children.
The appeal of Mr. Potato Head was boosted greatly when he appeared in the Disney/Pixar hit film Toy Story, voiced by Don Rickles. He returned in subsequent Toy Story sequels in 1999 and 2010, alongside Mrs. Potato Head.
It is almost hard to believe that Colorforms are still around. This is another toy that my little sister got, but I cannot remember my parents buying a set specifically for me. It was nearly impossible to keep all the little pieces in the box, so the sets became incomplete fairly quickly. I recall seeing the little vinyl shapes all over the den floor and when our cleaning lady came, she likely swept them up.
Colorforms was created in the early 1950s by the husband and wife team of Harry and Patricia Kislevitz, both of whom were art students. Patricia designed the first set which included pieces of vinyl hand cut from a large roll: a thimble, bottle, and a medicine container top were some of the shapes that were in this set. It was considered so iconic that it is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Popeye was the first cartoon character to be featured in a set, in 1957. In 2011, Time magazine named Colorforms one of the Top 100 Toys of All Time. The company has changed hands quite a few times over the years. The biggest difference between then and now is that many sets are 3-dimensional and no longer limited to a black board, so children can create far more complex fantasy worlds. The characters can stand up amid scenic, colorful backdrops.
I saw a few cans of unsealed Play-Doh at my local Goodwill store and I could not resist smelling it. Yes, it still smells exactly the same way as it did when I was a child – hurrah! It is reassuring to know that some things never change. I think I enjoyed the smell and colors more than creating things. When we were kids, one of us always left the tops ajar so we ended up with hard Play-Doh turds.
Play-Doh started out as a wallpaper cleaner in the 1930s. Composed of flour, water, salt, boric acid, and mineral oil, the product was transformed into a children’s modeling compound marketed to Cincinnati schools in the mid-1950s. The nontoxic, nonstaining, modeling compound was originally called Rainbow Modeling Compound, named after Rainbow Crafts, who obtained the patent in 1965.
The sets we had as children were quite basic with very few accessories. Play-Doh sets these days are far more complex so children can build very interesting things like entire villages, candy stores, extravagant meals, doctor’s kits, etc. There are a huge number of character sets such as My Little Pony, Angry Birds, Hello Kitty, SpongeBob, and others.
Introduced by Kenner in 1963, 500,000 Easy-Bake Ovens were sold in the first year of production. None of us had one, but I remember my little sister going across the street to play with her friend Susie, who did have one. When I was a child, I much preferred to help my mom bake real cookies in her kitchen … and lick the bowl of course.
I am certain a lot of children were burned playing with the early versions, but there was no CPSC to issue recalls back then. Ironically in 2007, they issued a recall for one million units of the Easy-Bake Oven. This recall was prompted by young children inserting their hands into the oven’s front opening and getting hands or fingers caught, which posed the possibility of partial finger amputation or burns – eek.
The current Easy-Bake Ovens manufactured by Hasbro do not even slightly resemble the originals. In fact, this toy gets the award for the most changes of the five that I highlighted. It doesn’t even look like an oven – to me, it looks like a weird retro oven that might have been on the Jetsons.