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America's Most Enduring Toys

Explore the history of America's most enduring toys, including Barbie and Mr. Potato Head.

Some of America's most enduring toys include those that allow kids to build structures. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Some of America's most enduring toys include those that allow kids to build structures.

Lincoln Logs, Mr. Potato Head, Barbie Dolls and Big Wheels are among many classic toys that vie for a spot on the list of America's most enduring toys. These classic toys have been able to capture the attention and interest of generations of children. A simple design and creative play appear to be the common threads for these classic toys. Regardless of the reason, parents relish the opportunity to relive their childhoods by sharing toys of their youth with their own children.

Building Toys

Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and Legos lead the list of America's most enduring toys when it comes to building. Children become engrossed in the structures they can build with these sets of building toys. The Classic Toy Museum offers insight into these toys.

Lincoln Logs, named after the president, were created by John Lloyd Wright. The toy consists of dozens of small wooden pieces, shaped like logs, which can be connected using notches in each piece to build houses and cabins. Originally made of redwood, Lincoln Logs are still sold today with different sizes and designs.

Tinkertoys, another of America's most enduring toys, originated in 1914 and were sold under the name "Thousand Wonder Builder." A Tinkertoy set includes thin wooden or plastic rods that can be connected with small round "spool" pieces. Millions of sets have been sold as new colors, and varied building parts have been introduced throughout the years.

Legos were patented in 1958; however, they were first created in 1949 under the name "Automatic Binding Blocks." The design was continuously improved to make the blocks easier to use, and many new building sets were introduced. It wasn't until 1974 that the infamous Lego people were introduced, along with more building sets and more possibilities for Lego creations. New sets of Legos continue to be produced and sold today. Amusement parks based around Legos have been opened . Intricate displays of Lego constructions are displayed in many locations. Legos earn a spot on America's most enduring toys list for their mass appeal to both young and old.

Big Wheel

Retroland describes in detail the appeal of the Big Wheel, a low, sturdy tricycle made mostly of plastic. The Big Wheel was developed in 1969 and became one of the hottest toys in the 1970s and 1980s. It is one of many of America's most enduring toys that is once again being produced in its original style, making it possible for today's children to experience the thrill of racing a Big Wheel with reckless abandon.

Play-Doh

This popular toy for children was first developed in 1956 when Joe McVicker used wallpaper paste to make the modeling dough. Originally sold in half-pound cans, Play-Doh was only offered in off-white. The color selection quickly expanded to the three primary colors and today, many colors are offered. Children of all ages love getting their hands on this versatile modeling clay, unleashing their creativity. Different play sets, which allow children to press and mold Play-Doh into animals, monsters and cartoon characters, have been added to the line up.

Mr. Potato Head

Since 1952, Mr. Potato Head has entertained children of all ages. Mr. Potato Head toys are based on small plastic accessories, such as eyes, noses, arms and feet, which can be affixed to a toy potato. Originally, Mr. Potato Head was intended for use on an actual potato, but the kits came with a Styrofoam potato. It wasn't until 1964 that Mr. Potato Head kits came with a plastic potato.
Mr. Potato Head was the first toy to be advertised on television and has continued to grow in popularity. Today, Mr. Potato Head comes in many different versions with costumes to create different personas, ranging from the heroic Indiana Jones to the villainous Darth Vader.

View-Master

Children love to click away on the View-Master, another of America's most enduring toys. View-Masters are eyepieces that resemble short binoculars. By inserting special reels of film slides, children could view images that appear three-dimensional. The concept of the View-Master was born in 1938 by William Gruber. A photography expert named Harold Graves assisted Gruber in making his vision a reality and together they created the View-Master. The collection of reels for the View-Master has steadily grown over the years to include many popular characters and movies.

Barbie

Barbie has many fans and many opponents. Yet it's tough to deny that she is one of America's most enduring toys. The New York Toy Fair of 1959 marked the introduction of the Barbie doll, which was based on a German doll marketed to adults. Parents were initially wary of Barbie and her adult figure, but Mattel was able to put a positive spin on the attention by turning Barbie into a role model, accomplishing things that girls could aspire to achieve. Over the years, Barbie has donned many outfits and played many roles, including student, fashion model, McDonald's employee and corporate executive, to name a few. Children enjoy changing her outfits and creating an entire life and storyline around her. Barbie is still a wildly popular toy and likely will remain so for many years.

Etch-A-Sketch

The roots of the Etch-A-Sketch reach back to the International Toy Fair in 1959. Named the Magic Screen, the toy did not receive much attention at the toy fair. The Ohio Art Company decided to take a chance on the toy, and it soon became a hit . Children still delight in creating works of art on the simple screen of this toy. Adults create intricate pictures on the screen as well, proving that the Etch-A-Sketch is one of America's most enduring toys for both the young and the old.

Wooden Alphabet Blocks

One of the staple toys of American youth can be fun and educational. This toy is the wooden alphabet block, a small wooden cube with a letter painted or embossed on each side. By turning and lining up the blocks, children can create different combinations of letters and words. This activity can help young children practice their reading and spelling skills. In addition, the blocks can be used for building games. Alphabet blocks are seen as so fundamental they are often used as a symbol for young children's education.

Common Ties of America's Most Enduring Toys

America's most enduring toys allow kids to use their imaginations. The simplicity of operation is another of the common threads of America's most enduring toys. While video games, electronic toys and complicated contraptions with many parts are popular with today's children, it is clear that the simple toys that originated decades ago still hold a place in the hearts of children and their parents. America's most enduring toys will surely be around for many more generations, entertaining millions of children with their simplicity and limitless opportunities to employ creativity.

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