Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Toy stories at the Minnesota History Center December 11, 2014

TOY: Object for a child to play with.

 

Toys, sign and Twister

 

If you’re a Baby Boomer, that object may have been Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs, anything space or Western related, a baby doll or Barbie or perhaps a troll. How about a Tonka truck? Twister or Cootie or Candy Land, anyone?

 

Toys, promo on wall

 

The Minnesota History Center’s “TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s” is a skip down memory lane for my generation. A recent tour of the exhibit, which runs through January 4, 2015, skipped joy into my heart as I spotted toys I hadn’t thought about in years. Sometimes it’s fun simply to forget about today and remember the carefree days of youth. The days of hopscotch and jacks and stick horses and…

Outdoor toys and a play area are part of the exhibit.

Outdoor toys and a play area are part of the exhibit.

I didn’t see a jump rope, though, but perhaps missed it.

Oh, the hours sitting cross-legged with Tinker Toys scattered across the floor, attempting to construct a Ferris Wheel.

 

Toys, Cootie

 

Oh, the anticipation of rolling a six on the die to insert the last of six legs into a Cootie’s body.

Oh, the tears that raged when I discovered my oldest brother had punched in the boobs of my new bridal doll.

Oh, the gratitude to my friend Robin for gifting me with a mini pink-haired troll at my ninth birthday party. It was the only troll or childhood birthday party I would ever have.

Toys, Spirograph

Some artsy favorites like Spirograph, Lite Brite and making bugs from goop.

 

Oh, the delight in creating kaleidoscopic designs with Spirograph’s pens and plastic shapes.

A museum visitor checks out the 1960s exhibit.

A museum visitor checks out the 1960s exhibit.

Memories rolled in waves as I perused the showcased toys. Some I had as a child; many I did not.

In the '50s section of the exhibit, a Christmas tree with coveted toys of the decade.

In the ’50s section of the exhibit, a Christmas tree with coveted toys of the decade.

I remember each December paging through the Sears Christmas catalog (AKA “Wish Book”) that arrived in our rural southwestern Minnesota mailbox, wishing for so much, knowing in my deepest desires that I would never get the Pogo stick I coveted nor the doll that cried with the pull of a string or a new bicycle (mine came from the junkyard).

Space toys were big in the 1960s and my oldest brother had a rocket.

Space toys were big in the 1960s and my oldest brother had a rocket.

I would receive what my parents could afford and I expect they sacrificed much even for that.

Toys strewn across the floor in a play area of the 1970s part of the exhibit.

Toys strewn across the floor in a play area of the 1970s part of the exhibit.

Looking back, that inability to give me and my siblings a pile of toys was a gift in itself. Sure, I wanted the hottest new toy. That’s normal thinking for a kid who doesn’t understand family finances or a parent’s thoughts on curbing greed.

I remember life without TV and our first television, in black and white. And Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy back in the day.

I remember life without TV and our first television, black and white. And Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy back in the day.

Because of my upbringing, I have never focused on material things.

Anything Western related was especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here you see the Western influence in furniture.

Anything Western related was especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here you see the Western influence in furniture. My siblings and I spent countless hours riding our stick horses through the grove and, in the winter, around the house.

Yes, toys are fun to get and give, especially those that encourage creativity and imaginative play and don’t require batteries.

I cherish the blessings of family and home more than anything. I spotted this needlework in the 1970s portion of the exhibit.

I cherish the blessings of family and home more than anything. I spotted this needlework in the 1970s portion of the exhibit.

But it is family that I cherish most. And when I toured the History Center’s toy and other exhibits, I did so with my husband, eldest daughter and son-in-law. Nothing skips joy into my heart like being with those I love.

As we left the museum, we voted for our favorite Minnesota made toy. My daughter and I voted for Cootie. Our husbands chose Tonka.

As we left the museum, we voted for our favorite Minnesota made toy. My daughter and I voted for Cootie. Our husbands chose the Tonka truck.

FYI: For information on “TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” click here. Just a little heads up: This exhibit was packed on a Saturday afternoon. I’d advise visiting this St. Paul museum on a weekday, especially if you want an opportunity to participate in the interactive parts of exhibits.

BONUS PHOTOS:

My son-in-law noted, as we toured the 1970s part of the exhibit, that toys began to reflect social issues such as being environmentally conscious.

My son-in-law noted, as we toured the 1970s part of the exhibit, that toys began to reflect social issues such as being environmentally conscious.

A 1960s living room.

A 1960s living room.

Never saw this cartoon and I'm glad I did. Audrey carrying a gun? Really.

I didn’t grow up on the Little Audrey cartoon and I’m glad I didn’t. Really, a little girl carrying a gun?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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35 Responses to “Toy stories at the Minnesota History Center”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    We will definitely have to make a trip to Saint Paul for this.

    I noticed that Fleet Farm is selling Lincoln Logs. If only they had Erector Sets too. The best toys are those that spark the impulse to create.

    It’s fine that the History Center has captured the material detritus of childhood – but what about the culture of children? Do you remember the things we did rather than the things we had, like “playing for keeps” with marbles? The guy with the “steelies” (ball-bearings) usually won. My brother scored himself a rail-road ball-bearing – making him unstoppable. Within a week, he had one of those thick, clear plastic bookbags filled to the brim.

    Or how about the jump-rope chants? Do you remember:

    I had a little puppy.
    His name was Tiny Tim.
    I put him in the bathtub,
    To see if he could swim.
    He drank up all the water.
    He ate a bar of soap.
    The next thing you know,
    He had a bubble in his throat.
    In came the doctor
    (person jumps in).
    In came the nurse
    ( person jumps in).
    In came the lady
    With the alligator purse
    (person jumps in).
    Out went the doctor
    (person jumps out).
    Out went the nurse
    (person jumps out).
    Out went the lady
    With the alligator purse
    (person jumps out).

    Like you say, the memories flood back.

    • That’s a really good point you make about the other aspects of our childhood play. But since this was an exhibit specifically about toys…

      Jump rope was one of my favorite recess activities, especially since we had cement upon which to jump. Only gravel at home on the farm. I remember the second part of the rhyme you quote, my favorite line being “the lady with the alligator purse.” That always seemed so exotic to me.

      I never played marbles. Just jacks and hopscotch.

      Thanks for sharing some great childhood memories this morning.

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        But since this was an exhibit specifically about toys…

        Understood but it got me reminiscing. Thanks for the memories this morning.

      • You are welcome.

        That’s what this exhibit will do for you– get you reminiscing. The Minnesota History Center has many more wonderful exhibits. I’ll showcase one more here. Definitely worth a trip to the metro from Almost Iowa. You could easily spend half a day, if not more, there.

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    Even though I am not a Baby Boomer I still remember a lot of those toys – even that green Bubble Up bottle with the red/white label. Those were simpler times full of more creativity. The Lite Bright and Spirograph sure bring back the memories. I remember one particular toy of my younger days. It was called slime and it came in an Oscar the Grouch trash can. It was quite messy. It was given to me when I was in the hospital after a traffic accident in ’78. Let’s just say the nurses where not impressed with my grandpa’s toy selection.

    • What a great grandpa. He knew you well.

      I was recently looking for a Spirograph to buy for an 8-year-old boy whose name I pulled from an angel tree. Do you think I could find one? Not at the three Big Box retailers where I searched.

      My girls loved Lite Bright and my eldest was so delighted when she discovered it in the pile of her childhood belongings delivered to her and her husband’s house only a month ago.

      For my son, now 20, LEGOS were his go-to toy. He has tubs and tubs of LEGOS, most purchased for dirt cheap at garage sales. They are one of the best toys invented, in my opinion.

      Thanks for sharing some of your favorites.

      • Dan Traun Says:

        Oh my – I was a Lego’s enthusiast. That car accident I mentioned in ’78 left me somewhat limited as child growing up to participate in a lot of physical activities at times. I had several surgeries over the years to correct some bone/growth issues. Lego’s keep my mind churning away creating different things. For the Spirograph – Amazon.com.

      • That must have been one serious car accident. I’m so sorry.

        What a gift LEGOS were to you, from the sounds of it.

        Of course, Amazon. I still do not think of “online” when it comes to shopping. That’s the Baby Boomer in me, I guess. Thanks for the tip.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    There’s no “Love” button…..that would describe this post!!!! Must reblog!!!! Remembering “Winky Dink and Me” (TV), “Pinky Lee” (TV), Lite Brite (never had that….way too expensive!), Erector Sets w/ a motor!!!! (loved that and worked with that for my ferris wheel while my brothers had the Tinker Toys….sigh). So many wonderful memories!!!!!!!!!

    • Now you are remembering a few toys unfamiliar to me. But certainly treasured, I can tell.

      Tinker Toys were one of my all-time favorites. And do you think I saw them anywhere when we cleaned at my mom’s house this fall? Nope. I wonder which sibling secretly parceled them away? I would have loved a few of them to build something to display as art.

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    Reblogged this on Treadlemusic and commented:
    Grab a “cuppa” and prepare to take a leisurely stroll down memory lane (for those too young…….some smiles/giggles?). Audrey’s trek to the Minnesota History Center is worth the read……………………………….

  5. Beth Ann Says:

    Love the trip down memory lane. I had few toys myself growing up but I do remember many of these. I never had a Barbie doll in my entire life which many people find really difficult to believe. My favorite toy was my teddy bear, Wuzzy, that I still have today. 🙂

  6. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    I’m going to have to get to the History Center for this! I remember a lot of those toys and really remember wishing for the Lite Brite, which friends had but I didn’t. I did have Gumby and Pokey, though, and Barbies and Matchbox cars (were there any of those?). I remember going through catalogs, too; we got the JC Penney catalog. I would get one “big” present and several “little” ones; my parents were really careful how much they spent, too. One year, my “big” present was a guitar because I wanted to be like George Harrison. That would have been in the mid-Seventies.

  7. lanae Says:

    Toys I remember–my little red scooter, Chinese checkers, Chinese jump rope, my green haired troll doll (still have it on my shelf) and our card board pink kitchen set. Also the little iron that dad cut the plug in off with his handy jack knife. Made me mad, he did.

  8. Jackie Says:

    Such a fun post, many of these toys I remember as a child growing up. I did not play with dolls (total tomboy) but I remember pop guns being a big deal, also loved playing with spirograph, and trolls. I noticed that silver Christmas tree….oh dear, was that really popular? We always had a real tree. *disclaimer, I did own a doll, it’s hideous and was purchased before I was old enough to rebel. I still own it, someday I shall share her with you in a post.

  9. Thread crazy Says:

    Thanks Audrey for brining back lots of great memories. I so loved playing “Cootie” and “Lite Brite”, etc. One of my favorites was my slinky; I could play for hours with it. Glad you had time with family; what a better way to enjoy this time of year, than to be with family.

  10. Don’t forget Herman and Catnip!

  11. KerryCan Says:

    This was such fun to read! I think I had, or desired, every toy you mentioned–I guess I grew up in this exact timeframe. I loved the artsy toys–the spirograph, the etch-a-sketch, and the creepy crawler bugs, made with goop. They made a version of the latter that you could actually eat, called Incredible Edibles!

    • Thank you, Kerry. I loved all of those artsy toys you listed. Such fun. Edible bugs. Goodness. Do you remember those mini cake mixes that you could somehow “bake” in a toy kitchen? I just thought of those now. Can’t recall how they worked or having many of them.

      • KerryCan Says:

        I DO remember those cakes! I think they baked with the heat of a light bulb–can you imagine that we were allowed to eat that stuff? The creepy crawlers and edible bug were made in a little oven that got really, REALLY hot–no parent today would let a kid use it. But we survived!

      • Ah, yes, the light bulb.

        We definitely survived a lot, didn’t we? I “survived” falling down a steep stairway while playing dress-up while wearing my mother’s high heels. That resulted in several stitches. My brothers always claim a few of my brains tumbled out during that fall. Gotta love those brothers.

  12. How COOL is that and Oh So Much FUN to be had exploring and going down memory lane – thanks so much for sharing 🙂


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