There are lots of books about baby boomer toys, but this fun collection is presented from the viewpoint of the kids who played with the toys and includes lots of personal memories and photographs. Sure, there are many interesting facts and histories about well-known toys and their creators. Classic toys and games that are still made today like Tonka trucks, Easy-Bake Oven, G.I. Joe, Matchbox and Hot Wheels, Twister and Mousetrap are featured in loving color photographs and vintage ads. Their stories are well-known, too. For example, writer and artist Johnny Gruelle patented his rag doll design in 1915, the same year his daughter Marcella died after a controversial smallpox vaccination. The Rageddy Ann and Andy dolls and books helped Gruelle keep his memories of his daughter alive.
Famous fads include the ’50s Davy Crocket Coonskin Hats, the ’60s Troll dolls, and the ’70s Pet Rock. Toys always reflect the times they’re from and this book provides plenty of cultural and historical background. Only after the heady 1960s and ’70s with women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, and Black Power movement would there be an anatomically correct African American baby boy doll, Mattel’s Baby Tender Love, molded in life-like vinyl skin called Dublon.
Other less well-known toys are long gone from the toy store shelves but live on in the very personal memories (and actual childhood photographs!) featured throughout the book. Home health training specialist Lisa Crawford (b 1963) appropriately recalls the insanely dangerous metal-tipped lawn Jarts. I was delighted to find Make editor and fellow WINK contributor Gareth Branwyn’s (b 1958) recollection of using his own Johnny Horizon Environmental Test Kit to get an A+ on a school project (and to keep tabs on any hometown polluters!). Learn the mysteries of Ike-A-Doos, create a Cootie, and check out Schwinn’s Lil’ Chik for-girls-only line of bikes.
I was charmed by these personal toy stories. I was also lucky enough to see this show of toys at Seattle Museum of History and Industry. Even if you weren’t able to see this traveling Minnesota Historical Society-curated show, which ended last month, you can explore these memorable toys with the book.
Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s
by Kate Roberts and Adam Scher
Minnesota Historical Society Press
2014, 208 pages, 8 x 10 x 0.7 inches (softcover)