We’ve already told you about three toys that were most popular 100 years ago. Today we’ll add three more and next week we’ll round out the top ten most popular of toys for children in 1917.
Crayola’s – Who isn’t reminded of their childhood when they smell a freshly opened box of Crayola’s? Crayola’s were invented in 1903 by the Binney & Smith Company of Easton, Pennsylvania, using paraffin wax and nontoxic pigments. The name Crayola comes from "craie," French for "chalk," and "oleaginous," or "oily."
The first box of crayons sold for a nickel and contained eight color sticks - black, brown, blue, red, violet, orange, yellow, and green – the same colors in the box of eight today, but they’ll cost you 1.00. Growing up we were often miffed by the deletion of a color and the new names for what seemed like existing colors. We were right! By 1917, the company had used 54 names for 38 different colors. By 2015, it had come up with 759 names for 331 colors. Regardless, Crayola’s have fostered creativity in boys and girls alike – just don’t forget to stay inside the lines!
Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls - Johnny Gruelle, the “founder” of the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, was born in Arcola, Illinois in 1880 The son of a portrait artist, he went on to become a political cartoonist, Sunday comic illustrator, and author of fairy tale stories for children.
How the dolls came about is a mixture of legend and fact that can be hard to separate. Basically, the story goes that Gruelle was in his attic one day looking for something when he came across a rag doll his mother had made for his sister. He showed the doll to his daughter, Marcella, who immediately fell in love with it. Together they named the doll Raggedy Ann after two cartoon characters of the day, The Ragged Man and Little Orphan Annie. Marcella’s mother repaired the old doll and made her a mate they named Raggedy Andy.
In response to the Industrial Revolution during early twentieth century, traditional American values were being challenged. Homemade and hand-crafted objects, like the two dolls, were popular fare. Fairy tales, magic shows, and psychic phenomena became all the rage. All of this fit with Gruelle’s career path and set the stage for his daughter’s folksy, whimsical doll to move into mainstream America’s conscience. He updated the design of the doll and in 1915 was issued U.S. patent.
Sadly, Marcella died at age thirteen from the ravages of an infected vaccination. The tales he later published about the adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy were ones that Gruelle had told to his daughter during her final days. The dolls went on to become more than just something for children to play with. They were literary characters that reflected trustworthiness, kindness, and spunk, attributes that were held in high esteem one hundred years ago. In honor of the memory of his daughter, Gruelle named the prime character in his stories Marcella.
As part of our doll exhibition, the museum has an antique set of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls on permanent display.
Erector Sets - While riding the train to work into New York City, A. C. Gilbert watched the progressive construction of steel girders to support power lines. It gave him and idea for a child’s learning toy and, in 1911, A. C. Gilbert’s new company launched the Erector Set. Erector Sets were the first toys to introduce boys to engineering and the structural principles of modern skyscrapers that were the current rage in large cities.
In addition to structural girders, Gilbert's Erector sets had pulleys, gears, and several 1" wide strips with triangles cut in them and the edges bent over. This allowed for 4 strips to be put together with 2 screws to form a very sturdy square girder. Basic Erector Sets grew and expanded, but eventually faded in popularity. They were discontinued in the 1980’s but their spirit lives on in the wildly popular Lego building blocks.
While the museum does have examples of Raggedy Ann and Andy, we do not have examples of other toys that were popular in the early twentieth century. Perhaps you may have some that visitors to the museum would enjoy seeing. They don’t have to be from the early 1900’s , just examples for today’s children to see and appreciate their history. An out of town visitor to the museum once said our museum was a “collection of precious memories.” That’s what the museum is seeking, particularly during this holiday season.
The museum is a great destination for family and guests during the holiday season. Admission and parking are free. The museum, located at 300 South Bolton, is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Come visit us soon!