DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Toys of Days Past

Until a time machine is invented, one of the best chances for those of us who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s to recapture the joy of playing with our toys of those days is to visit the Smithsonian American History Museum. 

At its Pause and Play Lounge, the museum is featuring  pop culture objects related to the emergence of youth culture from 1950 to 1964. In addition to exhibits from the time to view, youngsters and oldsters can engage in a variety of activities ranging from creating Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls to drawing comics and cartoons on giant wall boards.

You can begin your trip down memory lane by checking out the showcases. In one, there is the Superman suit actor George Reeves wore. Another contains artifacts from early childhood TV shows such as the original Howdy Doody puppet, a Mickey Mouse Mouseketeer cap, a Lone Ranger lunchbox, and a Capt. Kangaroo coloring book.


There is a showcase that contains a tribute to the jukebox and the vinyl records of the period. A song list of 21 tunes ranging from Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" to the Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari" plays continually in the background during your visit.


Until this era, all market advertising was aimed at adults. But with the advent of TV, advertisers discovered that they could appeal directly to the young people they were trying to entice with their products. On a large screen, there is a loop of more than a dozen advertisements for toys and food items such as cereal.

The large lounge offers 2 hands-on areas. On one wall, you can draw your own comic and cartoon character. At a series of tables you can build with Legos, etch a sketch, or watch a Slinky slink.

On three panels are photos submitted from visitors who grew up between 1950 and the early 60s where contemporaries can wax nostalgic and those who aren't can discover what it was like to grow up then. If you would like to contribute copies of photos to be included on the panels,  you can do so by clicking here.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
 Many of the toys from the Pause and Play Lounge are still available today, making them a play staple of kids for 6 decades. Here are did-you-know facts about some of them.
  • The View Master was not orginally marketed as a kid's toy. In fact, the View Master was created as a way to see 3D color images of popular tourist attractions.
  • The 1st Mr. Potato Heads used real potatoes. From 1952 until 1964, the toy was sold as fun features that could be stuck into potatoes or other vegetables to make silly faces.
  • Slinkys were inspired by an accident. A U.S. Navy engineer accidentally knocked a specially designed spring off a shelf and was suprised to see that it could "walk."
  • In 1960, the Etch-a-Sketch was so popular that the Ohio Art Company continued manufacturing it right up until noon on Christmas Eve and then shipped them out for last-minute shoppers.
  • Legos, among the earliest plastic toys, comes from the Danish words leg godt which means "play well."

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