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Nostalgia Time: Toys of the Fifties

Still escaping to other places right now and hope you’ll take the leap into the past with me.

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The toys we played with when we were young generate nostalgic memories of a simpler time of childhood innocence. Toys of the fifties are artifacts of that period. They act like mascots, embodying the spirit of that decade. The baby boom boosted the volume and variety of playthings for kids. Girls were expected to play with kitchen sets, baby dolls, or fashion dolls to teach them to be housekeepers, mothers, and stylish women who dressed appropriately so they’d grow into these roles as adults. Boys had more choices in their playthings covering construction, cowboys, space travel, soldiers, doctors, chemist, magicians, and other types of imaginative play. More expensive toys and family type games became available as well in the fifties.

Here are some iconic toys of the fifties.

  • Two-Handed Pogo Stick

In 1957, George Hansburg added the innovation of two handles to the original pogo sick created in the late 1800s. It was safer but even more importantly the kids could jump higher on it. Jumping higher is a big deal to most kids.

  • Skates

The skates kids wore to roll up and down neighbor sidewalks in the fifties were silver-toned metal and fit over the soles of their tennis shoes. They had to use a skate key to tighten the clamps. The skate keys often got lost. 

  • Tonka Trucks 

The company named Tonka (after Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka) released its first pickup truck in 1955. Thirty trucks have followed since Tonka’s first one left its tracks in the sandbox, and the company, now owned by Hasbro, is still represented in playgrounds around the world.

  • Hula Hoop

In 1958, Wham-O toy created 40” bright colored round plastic tubes. The hula hoop craze was off and kids across America were spinning hoops around their hips and waists. 

  • Barbie

Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler was inspired to create Barbie after watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls. In 1959, she designed a three-dimensional, grownup fashion doll and named it after her daughter; sales soared, making Barbie (and her vast collection of accessories) the best-selling fashion doll of all time. 

Lots of Barbies
  • Slinky

The slinky was a national phenomenon by the 1950s. The jingle all the kids of the day sung was “It’s Slinky; it’s Slinky. For fun, it’s a wonderful toy. It’s fun for a girl and a boy.” 

  • Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head

In 1951, the Rhode Island Hassenfeld Brothers company, which produced modeling clay and doctor and nurse kits, purchased the rights to Mr. Potato Head for $7,000. The Hassenfelds made over a million in the first year. In 1968, they changed the company name to Hasbro. Nowadays they are the third largest toy company in the world.  The first Mr. Potato Heads came with Styrofoam heads and instructions telling children they could substitute it for a real potato. There were plastic eyes, noses, and lips, and a hat to stick into the head. You could get Mr. Potato or Mrs. Potato heads. (In my memory, we used real potatoes…)

  • Gumby

Gumby animator Art Clokey created the 1950s claymation TV program called The Gumby Show. Clokey later revealed that Gumby’s head was modeled after one of the few photos he had of his father, who wore his hair with a large wave of it protruding from the right side of his head. Gumby toys were released in 1955 and have been popular with children ever since.

Any of these toys bring back memories? What are the childhood toys you remember?

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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