Discussing potential Christmas pressies for the younger members of our respective families recently, a colleague relayed to me that age old story – how his young granddaughter was currently getting more fun out of an empty cardboard box than any of the expensive toys she’d been bought.
Whether it became a spaceship, a submarine or a hula hula skirt, I guarantee to you that every reader generated great craic and creativity out of a cardboard box at some stage in their life. So much so that the classic cardboard box has made it into the ‘National Toy Hall Of Fame’ at the Strong Museum in New York, where the mission is identify toys of international significance in the world of play and imagination.
There are several criteria a toy has to meet to enter into this Hall of Fame, including the achievement of icon-status, which means the toy is widely recognised, remembered and respected. The toy or game must also boast longevity, which means it has enjoyed popularity for multiple generations and is not just a passing fad. Furthermore, the toy must also have contributed to discovery by fostering learning and creativity. Finally, the toy must be innovative, meaning it profoundly changed the way people played or was new and revolutionary in design.
The opening class of inductees was a long list of 18 toys and I must admit that when I read it, it sent me spiralling on a trip down nostalgia lane. And given the exorbitant cost of many toys on the market these days, I was fascinated to learn how the vast majority of those toys originally inducted into the Hall of Fame were of the cheap and cheerful variety. Like the Jump Rope…come on girls, you must remember “Upsies, downsies, twirl all aroundsies, clapsies, kicksies, if you miss a loop you’re out”! Or the Hula Hoop, so named after the swivel-hipped Hawaiian dance its users seemed to imitate. Every girl had one when I was growing up.
Also on that first list was the Frisbee, which apparently originated with late 19th-century students at Yale and other New England universities playing catch with pie plates (some say it was cookie tin lids) made by the nearby Frisbie Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. They yelled “Frisbie!” to warn passers-by away from the spinning discs.
Other toys selected for their Hall of Fame in that first year included Crayola Crayons, which have been around since 1903 and Monopoly, the most popular board game in history, which began life as The Landlord’s Game in 1904. Believe it or not the game was devised to point out the social pitfalls of unequal wealth among people. But instead, players greedily collected huge piles of money and property, delighting in opponents’ financial troubles. At the height of the Great Depression, Monopoly was the best selling game in the US.
Love them or hate them I don’t know any girl who didn’t have one at some stage. Yep, she of the pert plastic boobs, Barbie, also made the grade. Barbie was born when Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler was watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls and decided that girls would have more fun with three-dimensional dolls. Within a year of her introduction in 1959, Barbie became the biggest selling fashion doll of all time. Sales surged with each annual addition of Barbie dolls decked out in the latest styles. Barbie generated criticism too, with feminists lambasting her curves for setting unrealistic standards for physical beauty. Such criticisms actually brought about innovations and Barbie moved with the times. Her manufacturer developed a commitment to boosting girl’s self-esteem, giving Barbie a cosmopolitan sense and expanding career options. African-American and Hispanic-American Barbies appeared in 1980, an Eskimo Barbie in 1982, a Hawaiian Barbie in 1983, and a Chinese Barbie in 1993. Over the years Barbie changed jobs more than 75 times, becoming a dentist, a palaeontologist, an Air Force fighter pilot, a World Cup soccer competitor, a firefighter, and a candidate for President. Even in demanding positions, though, Barbie has thankfully retained her fashion sense.
Believe it or not a variation of local classic ‘knucks’ made it into the Hall of Fame, too. For non-Waterfordians amongst you, knucks were small star shaped metal objects made by workers in the Iron Foundry on Gracedieu. Apparently one of the oldest and most widespread games in the world, knucks shares its strategy with ‘Jacks’, which involves tossing a ball in the air and scooping up pieces before the ball bounces.
Throughout history, it seems, kids in virtually every culture on the globe have sat cross-legged and played some version of that game. The Rochester museum believes that Cro-Magnon parents may have encouraged their children to play jacks on cave floors, to increase the eye-hand coordination vital to later success at hunting. Kids in ancient Egypt played “knucklebones” with sheep toe bones. The game of knucklebones led to dice games for boys and jacks, usually played with a wooden ball, for girls. In modern times, kids followed a bouncing rubber ball. The game inspired popular children’s songs such as “This Old Man” (he played one, he played two, and so on).
Only a few toys are inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame each year. Others for readers to reminisce about at their leisure include the bicycle, the game of draughts (which dates back to ancient times when Egyptian tomb paintings referenced the game), the yo-yo (versions of which originated in ancient Greece), the jigsaw, marbles (mentioned by Shakespeare in his play Twelfth Night!), the Jack-in-the-Box (which originated as a Punch box in the 16th century) and Tonka Trucks, already a firm favourite with my one year old. I’m sure you’ll all agree that kids today have more toys than they know what to do with. So despite what the media tells you about those complicated electronic toys being the best brain food you can buy for your child, why not cast your thoughts back this Christmas to what really tickled your imagination as a kid?