Hey Smithsonian – What famous toys have earned their way into your exhibits?

With the holiday season upon us, toys are on the brains of children (and children at heart). This got us thinking about the incredible collection of toys at the Smithsonian Institution. From vintage to high-tech, these are the toys that rise above the holiday fervor and into history! We asked the fun folks at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to tell us about some of the special toys that have earned their way into their collections.

  • Teddy Bear – Did you know? The first stuffed bear toy was named the “Teddy Bear” after President Theodore Roosevelt. A political cartoon about Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a bear inspired two candy store owners from Brooklyn to create a stuffed bear. Before mass producing the toy, the creators wrote to President Roosevelt asking him if they could call the toy a “Teddy Bear.”
  • Game Boy – The Nintendo Game Boy was released in 1989, and was the first handheld video game console. All original Game Boys featured the game Tetris, and game software was stored on removeable cartridges, allowing users to change games on a whim. Think about how much gaming has evolved since the 80’s!
  • Howdy Doody toy marionette -From 1947 to 1960, The Howdy Doody Show was the leading children’s TV program in the United States. The Howdy Doody puppet was created in the 1950’s, and featured sliding eyes, a moving mouth, and six-inch strings. The marionette quickly became one of the most popular toys in the 1950’s.
  • Fisher Price Little People Play Family House – Playing house has never been so cute – or portable! Fisher-Price first produced this Little People Play Family House in 1969. The blue and yellow house had a carry-and-play handle and contained five Little People figures—Dad, Mom, Boy, Girl, and Dog.
  • Nancy Hanks Doll – Portia Sperry created this cloth doll in 1933 in rural Indiana during the Great Depression. She named the doll Nancy Hanks, after Abraham Lincoln’s mother. Sperry convinced Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago to sell the dolls, and Quaker Oat company to donate boxes for shipping them. Profits from the doll sales greatly benefited the farm women of Brown County, Indiana during an incredibly difficult time for our country.
  • Simon Electric Game –Inventor Ralph Baer is best known for inventing the first video game system, but did you know he also created Simon? Baer was tasked with inventing a handheld, electronic version of the popular children’s game “Simon Says.” Considering people still play Simon today, we’d say Baer was successful.

In 2018, WorldStrides became the approved domestic educational travel provider of the Smithsonian. This blog is part of a series, “Hey Smithsonian!” where we ask our friends at the venerable institution questions that dig deeper into this special place and all it has to offer!

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