The History of Toys
Topic: Toy Museum, News
The History of Toys
Toys are usually considered accessory objects, a complement on children's life. However there hasn't been a single person who grew up without them. Even the most humble sectors, that have no access to market toys, appeal to their imagination to create their own toys with handy materials. Mud, cloth, cardboard, paper, vegetable fibers, wood, metal, wax, tin and wire are precarious solutions that may turn into diversion objects thanks to children's creativity and imagination.
The word toy is quite diverse. It includes within itself a huge variety of products -there are about 250.000 different types of toys- that are classified in hundreds of categories according to: the age range of use, the materials used for it's production -plastic, wood, metal, cloth, paper, carton, etc.-, it's mechanisms -with or without movement, electric, with or without batteries, etc- and it's production process -plastic injection, print, etc.- all of these are of great influence to what is to be the final product.
A history that includes all toys is practically endless, therefore historical analysis of toys is based on general issues regarding it's evolution. Of course we must examine closely certain particular toys, since they were popular icons that directed the course of the toy industry, we must refer to them specifically.
Considerations regarding games vary. On one hand, they are an instrument of pleasure for children, and on the other they may serve to educational purposes, with a great deal of importance in the child's development of creative qualities. Games are also considered to be very efficient means for acknowledging reality. While playing the child reflects the life that surrounds him, acquires and fixes knowledge.
Because of it's own technical limitations, antique toys -precarious if observed form the present time- gave children the opportunity to use their imagination to complement and give certain meaning to the everyday-game. Because the toys of yearn were not the same as the ones we have nowadays, there weren't other diversion or entertainment means such as the movies or the television and the limited practice of sports, popular toys had a much grater meaning in every kid's life.
Technological advances in the construction of toys as well as social and urban changes of our cities have determined children's games. It used to be very common to see kids playing hide-and-see, rayuela (which is a Spanish game of drawing lines and jumping) and jumping the ropes on streets and parks, many years ago. Nowadays the yo-yo, jackstones and ball mold aren't as popular as in the past. Television, traffic, homework and extracurricular activities keep children of playing on the streets. Times change, different generations gave different interests, and the games children choose to play have much in common with the time they live in.
Toys have experienced many changes: from handcraft toys children made out of remains or poor materials such as cardboard or tin, to technological toys that function with microprocessors. Cars, motorbikes, workshops, kitchens, cell phones, computers... Toys model after the objects and way of life most adults choose. Nowadays balls and dolls aren't the favorite toy as they used to be, kids don't care vary much of table games and walking-talking dolls... Even lead soldiers and the Scalectric have lost their charm. On these days Electronics control toy markets with videogames. Kids spend less time playing with their friends on the street than their parents and grandparents use to spend. Today children share their smiles and pleasure with their new best friends: the computer and Nintendo set.
Toys throughout men's history.
Ever since the existence of human beings there exists motivation and need for distraction and diversion. This is common specially during childhood. For that purpose men has built this kind of objects all throughout history. Thereupon they have also influenced on children's intellectual and psychic development.
Childhood influences every person's future, it's at that time when a man's personality is outlined. What happens during that period, for better or worst, affects that person's future life. Therefore it's central importance for men's development. Toys have always been objects of entertainment and instruction for children which help them to develop their mind, creativity and sociability.
Children in Ancient Rome used to play with jackstones. During the Middle Age kids used to play with whistles and maracas to make noise, custom that has remained until nowadays. There are some particular elements from pre- Columbian times that evidence the existence of toys in American Continent. Unfortunately those toys where made out of palm, wood, nut shells and other vegetable products, therefore it's conservation wasn't possible.
One of the most archaic and popular toys has been the yo-yo. The constant up and down movement of this toy has captivated men since the beginning of times. Yo-yos where made out of wood, metal or terracotta. Even though the first historical record of the yo-yo is dated 500 B.C. in Greece -found during archeological excavations, the vessels with the drawing of a child playing yo-yo- it's believed that this toy that functions with the laws of physics dates form Ancient China. The following piece of evidence of this toy dates from 1790 in Europe, and afterwards it is taken to America, and so becoming an universal product.
There are two toys that have practically shared their history with the history of men in society: the doll and the ball. Both of them are among the first registered toys in Men's history.
Most ancient nations used the ball. In 1400 BC Egyptian children already played with it; it was made out of papyrus, cane, ivory, gold, clay or wood. Carved balls on wedding glasses representing nuptial Greek rituals were discovered through archeological excavations in Ancient Troy. Celtic tribes ancestors used sheep's and lamb's bladders to play something very similar to soccer.
However according to historical data, the most organized ball game was the one played by pre- Columbian American tribes. Form the Eskimos to the most southern extreme of the continent, whether filled with sand, air or rubber, they all played ball games.
Different European and pre- Columbian nations used it for diversion, sport and different religious ceremonies.
However the remote existence and use of balls, the most ancient toy we have information on are dolls. Around the year 3,000 BC, tiny figures -made out of clay, bone and wood- were used as mystic and religious symbols for death and power. Children were allowed to play with them nevertheless their ritual value.
There's also information confirming the existence of this kind of toys in the North Pole; throughout the centuries the Eskimos made ivory dolls for their children. Further in history, archeological evidence exhibits an important amount of ivory and bone dolls form the Marco Aurelio Era.
As time went by we observe a sophistication of dolls. In 1810, doll manufacturers incorporated the use papier-m?ch? on doll's faces which resulted in a much more natural look. By 1860 the first sit-down baby was invented. At the same time new materials such as gutta-percha, glazed porcelain, rubber and ceramic were being used for their production; faces imperfections were covered with plaster and make-up for surface finish. All these changes gave birth to the modern doll.
Baby-dolls were the fist ones produced with standard production, developed in the early days of the twentieth century in the United Sates, afterwards all, rag, plastic, vinyl dolls were industrially produced. Between 1925 and 1945 the American doll industry shows great and continuous improvement of models: from the ones that open and close their eyes, to the incorporation of finishing touches such as eyelashes, teeth, fingernails to plastic and rubber dolls that drink water and wet their dippers.
Figures, soldiers and puppets.
The first animal figure dates from the late nineteenth century, it was a green elephant made by a handicapped seamstress. By 1902 teddy bears were standard- produced, with motion of their arms, legs and head; it was the first time they used mohair (Angora goat fur), though of higher cost and price and a elite market, this soft and fuzzy feeling was the prelude to plush.
Toy soldiers production begun a long time ago together with a militarist ideology many times translated into nationalism. In the American continent, for example, they make their appearance together with the independence wars, early in their lives children are taught to love and respect their newly born country and army. From that epoch there are registers of toy soldiers made out of polychrome clay, lead, wood, even silver.
Puppets have centuries of existence. In the eighteenth century, made out of clay or wood and dressed authentically, they represented popular and theatrical characters which reflected real life. All toys throughout history show this attribute: they always model after real life.
The first puzzle was from 1762, shortly after it's invention it was not only a child game but an adult game also. However it became popular by 1870. One hundred years before, during the eighteen century, board games were very popular in Western Europe, specially in France, alike the puzzle children and adults played them.
Trains and cars.
The first metal wagon was invented in 1927 making a statement in toy's history. This was the famous red wagon that had a black number fifty on it's side, with metal wheels at first, latter on changed for rubber ones. The first ones, with a rectangular shape had sharp endings hurt children, therefore they rounded the extremes to avoid this.
Car toys are an other icon in toy's history. Their enormous popularity through generations is a proof of it. The first toy car standard production was in 1952, the company who did it: Matchbox. By 1960, the American company Mattel competed with Matchbox with the famous Hot Wheels Cars: miniature cars with wheel friction. This motivated a vertiginous competence and industry evolution. Therefore we had battery cars and remote controlled cars, lights, sirens, opening and closing windows and doors, and so on. Likewise other toys, cars reproduced at a tiny scale real cars, even their details. Toys inventors throughout history have always produced a reflection of their world but at a different scale: a smaller world for small people, kids.
The first robot.
During the 1950s celluloid industry invaded the market with sci-fi movies. This monsters, robots, space voyages denoted the modern development of science and technology. The toy industry also followed those steps. In 1954 Robert, the first robot was born in the U.S. Inspired in the movie Tabor, the fantastic, this plastic toy is an other icon in toy's history.
The most important toys of the twentieth century.
The 1950s where, no doubt about it, the most productive decade in the evolution of the child use artifacts. The industry's and commerce direction was settled then. Furthermore, the appearance of this new material, plastic, and the invention of Barbie and Lego represent such a deep revolution, that its very own limits exceeded the toy industry itself, giving birth to a parallel industry.
Lego was invented in 1936 in a small Danish town. By 1949 this plastic construction blocks burst into the toy market, and in 1958 the block's size was reduced and the fitting improved. This toy is recommended by almost every specialist based on the conception that it incentives the child's creativity, because of it's dynamic: the construction and alteration of the figure they build as many times as they want to.
Barbie was born in 1959, putting together all the fashion ideals of the moment: closed lips, lined eyes, wavy hair and a perfect body. Since then, Barbie production has never stopped, it even design her perfect match: Ken. More than 90% of American girls have at least one Barbie doll.
The Industrial Process.
The manufacturing of toys to an industrial scale took place during the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. New and modern materials -such as the rope, which gave the toy movement- are used in toys; polychrome wood, wax and rugs, paper and cardboard were materials of great importance in the confection of toys.
The real change in the world of toys is during the first decades of the twentieth century, when specialists acknowledge that toys are pedagogic objects, that stimulates children's intelligence and cognitive aptitudes.
For more than three decades -until the upcoming of plastic- industrial produced toys coexist with the traditional popular ones, made out of mud, wood or paper. In the 1930s celluloid doll production outspreads, these washable hygienic dolls show a clear German influence. Also at the beginning of the twentieth century we find the embryo -coinciding with motor vehicles standardized-production- of high-tech toys, during the game the child played a passive role, with little direct participation.
Plastic was invented during the 1940s, but it's use for industrial production of objects for children broadens during the '50s. It's quality to mold into different shapes and colors suited perfectly the toy industry. Here fore we can say that starting at 1960 plastic initiates a new era in the toy industry.
Before 1950 industrial toys production centers were concentrated in high-consumer countries such as the United States and Western Europe. But after WW2, all main companies relocated their production plants in developing countries with low labor costs in order to increase their profits. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea first and in the late `70s China, Malaysia and Indonesia hosted those production plants. As a result of these relocations we see how production and mass consumers were geographically separated in order to keep up the benefit. Nowadays, toys world production is concentrated in the far East, especially in China. In the future, Latin America and Eastern Europe may turn into the new toy industry hosts.
World toys consume numbers in 1995 reached US$ 45.350 millions (without considering videogames purchases), numbers that make toy business men take very seriously the game's industry.
Because of the Spanish conquest of the American territory and centuries of colonial dominance, life in the "New Continent" suffered radical transformations, in which foreign influences played a main role. Spanish lifestyle, because of the crown's domain, set the margins, but also England, France, Portugal and Holland were of great influence to all Latin-Americans. As time went by, foreign and indigenous handcrafts (the very few that survived the colonization) were slowly altered and style depurated, toys were no exception to this rule. Nowadays, Latin America is a foreign toy consumer center. We not only import toys but also heroes.
The history of toys is no other than a part of the history of men in society. Toys played an important role in men's evolution. Therefore, no toy is accurately understood out of the historical context that made it happen. For they are elements of social life identity, they say much about the time they were conceived, form their historical adaptations we can trace their evolution. The industrial revolution in the toy production area, although late if compared to the ones in other industrial areas, was of great significance because of the transformations and profits it brought.
In the long run, we find out that toys wont always be objects of pleasure for children, but archeological evidence of pristine societies or objects with great collectable value. Mankind has never lived without toys, they have always been both amusement and development objects, as well as distractions from their everyday life for adults. They serve as means through which the social relationship between children and their intellectual and ideal creative development is possible. The basis of an adult man is his childhood; at that time, toys play an essential role. Email: The Buenos Aires Toy
Museum,Bob Frassinetti.The Buenos Aires
Bob Frassinetti. Copyright 2005. Roberto Dario Frassinetti.
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