Toys expand our imagination. They teach. They help us enjoy the simple pleasures of fun. In this issue of The Goldfinch, we examine the role toys and games have had over the years. Our first article, "Toys and Games Through Time," explores their historical importance. Some of these playthings had European origins; others were already here, played with by Native Americans for generations.
Early on, children played with simple toys like ceramic marbles, wooden tops, ice skates, and dolls. They also created toys from ordinary household materials that their parents often discarded as junk. Toys and games in the 19th century taught children skills, morals, and good social behavior. By the early 20th century, because families depended less on children for labor, kids had more free time. As a result, toymakers began producing toys and games that weren't designed to educate, but were strictly for fun.
There are two companies located right here in Iowa that produce toys nationwide. The first is The Ertl Company. In the beginning, they began by making replicas of farm equipment, making toys for the John Deere Company. By the 1970s, they expanded into plastic model kits and electronic products like tape recorders and children's phonographs. Today, The Ertl Company manufactures dolls, collectible animals, Star Trek model kits, and Dukes of Hazzard model cars.
The Lansing Company made Slik-Toys which were simple wooden cars and trucks. During World War II, they made 30,000 toys daily from scraps of wood only 10 to 12 inches long. When the war ended and metal became available again, The Lansing Company switched to aluminum because it was sturdier than wood. While Slik-Toys can be found in stores across the country, manufacturing has never left Iowa.
In different Iowa communities, ethnic games remained quite popular. The Meskwaki children in Tama played games involving moccasins and wooden cones and pins. Swedish immigrants brought with them legends, stories, rhyming and singing games. The Czechs in Cedar Rapids had a number of toys and games that recalled their heritage. In the old days, pioneers made puppets from wood. They also fashioned toys from fabric, corn husks and clay, and made simple instruments.
In "Turning Work Into Play," we discuss the fact that for many, combining work with pleasure drew people together. Quilting, apple paring, and husking bees brought neighbors closer. The goal of "bees" was to finish the job, but people liked these work socials because they could get together, talk, and play. For men, skills such as hunting and fishing were considered both work and play. Kids engaged in the sport of these activities while acquiring food necessary for the family.
For women, patchwork quilts taught girls essential sewing skills. Fabric scraps and worn clothing became patches in their quilts. The pioneers of yesteryear used handpieced quilts as warm blankets, furniture padding when moving, and as makeshift walls in one-room houses. Quilts were an artistic expression for pioneer women who could make something old new again, something necessary into something beautiful.
In this issue of The Goldfinch, we also discuss the world events that have impacted play. Did you know that the "teddy bear" was named after Tbeodore Roosevelt? Or that during World War H when metal was scarce, manufacturers experimented with a new material called plastic?
Through the years, we've considered toys and games as a form of education as well as a way to have fun. Many toys and games created today entertain and strengthen children's imagination. Take Disney, for example. They discovered they could make money by licensing their characters so that they could appear, not just on screen, but as toys and other items. And unlike older toys like G.I. Joe, tanks, and machine guns which were directly linked to the war effort, toy tie-ins with movies like Star Wars enable youngsters to unleash their imagination.
Toys and games aren't just kid stuff. They have been influenced by history and have had a major cultural impact on society. Can you imagine what life for kids (and adults) would have been like without them?
Toys and Games Through Time: An overview of the development of toys and games in recent history.
Iowa Made Toys: Profile of two companies who manufacture toys in Iowa.
Iowa's Play Environment: The role that gender and socioeconomic times played in thedevelopment of toys and games.
Play Yesterday's Games Today: Explains a variety of games played in the past: Hoops &Sticks, Fox & Geese, Ante Over.
Ethnic Games: Discusses the sort of games played by Meskwakis, Swedes, and Czechs.
Make a Toy: Instructions on how to make a top.
Be a Diary: Entries detailing the kinds of toys and games a young girl played in the 1800s.
Be a Diary Detective: Questions asked about Sarah's diary.
Turning Work Into Play: Explains how old homesteaders combined work with play.
History Makers: Feature on Friday Fest Volunteers who helped plan an event involvingmany games.
World Events Impact Play: Discusses the way in which toys and games have influenced us historically and culturally.
Red Rover: Story of a girl who makes friends in a new school by playing a game.
History Mystery: A game of matching up marble terms with their meanings.