Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s

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New Exhibit Features Gumby, Barbie, Slinky and More!

For immediate release

Release dated: 
February 24, 2014
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3148,
Amy Danielson, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3020,

New Exhibit Features Gumby, Barbie, Slinky and More!

'Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s' Opens May 24, 2014 at the Minnesota History Center

"Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s" is a nationally traveling exhibit developed by the Minnesota History Center that captures the craziness, joy and sheer fun of being a kid. "Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s" will be on view at the Minnesota History Center May 24, 2014 to Jan. 4, 2015.

"The toys we play with are very much the products of their times," said Kate Roberts, exhibit developer. "By pulling together toys as diverse as Barbie, Hot Wheels, Spirographs and Pet Rocks, we hope to spark memories for visitors, but also to get them talking about how toys reflect the rhythms of American life."

At the core of the exhibit are reflections on the significance and silliness of childhood passions, taken from published sources and firsthand personal accounts. Learn about the Minnesota man who invented Cootie and where he took inspiration for his "bug"; hear from brothers who wished for Star Wars toys but because of the popularity of the movie got an "I.O.U." instead; and read a memory from a woman raised in a predominantly white suburb whose parents bought her a Julia doll because it "offered at least a hint that the world is a diverse place."

Visitors can explore hundreds of toys along with multimedia presentations and a trivia game hosted by The Brady Bunch’s Maureen McCormick. Around every corner, visitors can find a play zone where they can immerse themselves in hands-on play.

Related programs
Visitors will enjoy a variety of special programs including a toy-based craft activity offered free with admission during opening weekend, May 24-26, and daily through the summer. In the fall, a new Craft and Cocktails workshop series will be offered for young adults. And throughout the year lectures and family days will offer unique toy-related content.

New Book - "Toys of the '50s, '60s, and '70s" from the Minnesota Historical Society Press
Developed in conjunction with the exhibit, "Toys of the '50s, '60s, and '70s" spotlights 45 memorable toys, placing them in historical context and presenting firsthand stories by adults who revered these toys as kids. The book is written by exhibit developer Kate Roberts and MNHS curator Adam Scher. "Toys of the '50s, '60s, and '70s" will be available May 2014. $24.95 paperback, 208 pages, 80 color and b&w photos; $14.99 e-book.

Exhibit and Program Support
"Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s" is made possible in part by the Legacy Amendment through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008. Additional support is provided by Star Tribune.

Location, Hours and Admission
The Minnesota History Center is located at 345 Kellogg Blvd. W. in St. Paul. Exhibit gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays (admission is free on Tuesdays from 5 to 8 p.m.), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission to "Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s" is included with regular History Center admission of $11 for adults, $9 for seniors and college students, $6 for children ages 6 to 17; free for children age 5 and under and MNHS members. Auxiliary aids and services are available with advance notice. For more information, call 651-259-3000 or 1-800-657-3773.

About the Minnesota History Center
The Minnesota History Center holds the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. The History Center is home to an innovative museum, engaging public programs, a research library, distinctive gift shops and an award-winning restaurant.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota's past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history.

The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Exhibit Experience

Toys: Exhibit Experience

For immediate release

Release dated: 
February 24, 2014
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3148,
Amy Danielson, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3020,

Toys: Exhibit Experience

Through three living rooms and one garage setting, visitors can explore hundreds of playthings, including toys made in Minnesota, building toys, and toys that made the naughty list (messy, dangerous and annoying)! Around every corner is a play zone where visitors can immerse themselves in hands-on play. And a trivia game tests visitors’ knowledge of America’s favorite playthings.

The 1950s Living Room

  • Toys: Early African-American dolls, Roy Rogers-themed toys, Fort Apache set, Davy Crockett coonskin cap, model kits, Fisher-Price Corn Popper and more.
  • Play Zone: Slinky steps. Try your hand at making a Slinky walk down the stairs, then race your friend to see whose Slinky finishes first.
  • Video: Commercials from the 1950s including Betsy Wetsy, Lionel trains and the original Mr. Potato Head -- one of the first toys to be advertised on television.

The 1960s Living Room

  • Toys: Barbie and Ken dolls, Easy-Bake Oven, Play-Doh, GI Joe, Flintstones play set, Mouse Trap and more.
  • Play Zone: Giant toys table. Take a seat and try your hand at building a tower out of giant Tinkertoy pieces or test your skill at creating the longest chain possible out of oversized Barrel of Monkeys pieces.
  • Video: Commercials from the 1960s including Barbie’s Dreamhouse and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots.

The 1970s Living Room

  • Toys: Hungry Hungry Hippos, LEGOs, Star Wars action figures, Simon and more.
  • Play Zone: A 5-foot tall dollhouse where kids of all ages can play make-believe as they explore rooms filled with toys that will appeal to boys and girls.
  • Video: Commercials from the 1970s including Hot Wheels and Charlie’s Angels dolls.

The Garage

  • Toys: Kent Classic Lawn Darts (a.k.a. Jarts), Big Wheels and bicycles, Frisbees and more.
  • Play Zone: Nerf hoops. Try your hand at tossing a Nerf ball at a variety of baskets and targets. Or, pick up a hula hoop and practice your skills.

Classic Toys Trivia Challenge - Hosted by Maureen McCormick of The Brady Bunch.
Try out these sample questions:

  • Question 1: What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs?
  • Question 2: In 1964 Tonka launched its Mighty line of bigger, beefier toys. What was the first Mighty truck offered?
  • Question 3: In the 1958 novelty hit "The Chipmunk Song," what toy does Alvin repeatedly ask for?

(Answers 1 slinky, 2 dump truck, 3 hula hoop)

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Exhibit Images

Toys: Images

For immediate release

Release dated: 
February 24, 2014
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3148,
Amy Danielson, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3020,

Toys: Images

The toys we played with as children reflected what was happening in the world around us and shaped how we looked at ourselves. This exhibit is rich with personal stories of special toys.


[Download High Res] (3.1 mb)

The Game of Cootie, Schaper Toys

The Game of Cootie hit store shelves in 1950 when Minneapolis-based Dayton’s department store agreed to sell it on consignment. Creator William "Herb" Schaper modeled Cootie on a wooden fishing lure and used new plastic technology to make the bug an overnight success.

"You don’t know the research that went into designing Cootie. He wanted a rough-looking bug like the Cooties from the First World War. He knew the kids would embrace it. Even after he carved that little bug, I don’t think Herb realized what he had."

—Fran Schaper, Herb’s wife


[Download High Res] (1 mb)

American Flyer train set, A. C. Gilbert Company

"Back in the early '50s, we did not have excess money, but my parents were overly generous to us at Christmas. They scrimped and saved the rest of the year. At Christmas, we were allowed one present that 'if it is the only present you received for the rest of your life...what would it be?' My wish was for a train."

—Richard Klick, b. 1942, truck sales manager


[Download High Res] (2.7 mb)

LEGO bricks

"Whole days could be given over to making buildings, cars, spaceships or mystery objects. The only time limit on how long LEGOs could entertain you was when a parent told you to put them all away because you were taking up the entire floor (or when someone stepped on one in bare feet)."

—Jodi Larson, b. 1975, museum planner

Mouse Trap

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Mouse Trap, Ideal

"This along with Operation and the John and Jane West dolls (with their horses and all their tack) were part of a suite of toys that never, ever made it into my house. Too many parts to lose, too expensive and frankly too cool for my parents to even think of buying. We got puzzles, Sorry, and the game that came the closest, Clue. But oh, how I dreamed of the day that this would be in our house. If they had only gotten it for me, I would have become an engineer, I'm sure of it."

—Terry Scheller, b. 1959, graphic specialist

Easy Bake

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Easy-Bake Oven, Kenner

"Aww, I loved mine! You had to send away for the little boxes of mixes. Waiting for them to come from the mailman was an eight-year-old’s introduction to the concept of eternity. I would proudly make 'dessert' for the family, but usually by serving time, I had very carefully finger- swiped all the pink frosting off the tiny cake."

—Eva Terrell, b. 1959, archaeologist


[Download High Res] (1.6 mb) Skipper


[Download High Res] (2.8 mb) Julia

Skipper and Julia dolls, Mattel

Mattel introduced Barbie in 1959 as a working woman. Over the years other Barbie dolls have hit the market, including Skipper, Barbie’s younger sister, and the Julia doll which was based on the 1968 NBC sitcom starring Diahann Carroll.

"I think she [Julia] and Skipper were the only Barbie dolls I had. I liked her because I could watch her on TV, too. And in our almost entirely white suburb, my parents were so happy that popular culture of the '70s offered at least a hint that the world is a diverse place."

—Elizabeth Olson, b. 1965, chief financial officer

Big Wheel

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Big Wheel, Louis Marx and Company

"So many of my friends had a Big Wheel. Man, were those machines tricked out! Flags flappin' and wheels clackin' as kids flew down their driveways and on the street where we lived. I was lucky enough to get one in the mid-'70s, but to my surprise my Big Wheel did not make the clacking noise like those of my friends. Many years later my Dad admitted that he neglected to install the clackers when he assembled my Big Wheel."

—David Grabitske, b. 1970, outreach services manager

Pet Rock

[Download High Res] (2.9 mb)

Pet Rock, Gary Dahl

"I really wanted one of these (hey, I was 7), but my parents refused to buy me one . . . something about being a matter of principle ('Rocks are free!') So I caught a ‘wild rock' on the North Shore of Lake Superior and brought it home. I made a home for my wild rock in a shoe box (complete with shredded newspaper). But eventually, I realized you just can't tame a wild thing . . . and I set it free."

—Greta Bahnemann, b. 1969, academic librarian

becker brothers

Star Wars action figures, Kenner

The success of the first "Star Wars" movie in 1977 took toymaker Kenner by surprise. When the company launched the action figure line in 1978, it did not have enough stock for the Christmas season and sold an "Early Bird Certificate Package" instead.

"I don't remember now if I was disappointed at not receiving actual toys but I do remember spending hours staring at the drawings of the action figures on the background of the cardboard display and dreaming about what it would be like to have all of the figures."

—William Becker, b. 1967, U.S. Navy scientist


Twister, Milton Bradley Company

While working for the Reynolds Guyer Agency, a promotion and design firm in St. Paul, Charles Foley and Neil Rabens created and patented a mat game named Pretzel, in which the players became game pieces. Charles Foley’s relationship with executives at Milton Bradley convinced the company to buy the rights to market and sell his game, which was soon renamed Twister. Initial sales of Twister were lackluster. But after Johnny Carson and actress Eva Gabor played it on the Tonight Show on May 3, 1966, sales soared.


The Mighty Dump Truck, Tonka Toys

While Tonka has produced a variety of toys-from dolls to computer games-its most popular model line has been trucks, which were introduced in 1949. The Mighty Dump Truck came out in 1964 and became the best-selling vehicle ever.

Girl with hula hoop

A young girl plays with a Hula-Hoop, in the exhibit "Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s"

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Spokesperson Bios

Toys: Spokesperson Bios

For immediate release

Release dated: 
February 24, 2014
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3148,
Amy Danielson, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3020,

Toys: Spokesperson Bios

Kate Roberts, Senior Exhibit Developer
Kate Roberts is amazed and delighted by the power of objects to elicit memories from exhibit visitors and to spark direct connections to larger historical themes. Describing "Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s," Roberts says that "people get it, they connect immediately, they can't wait to learn more, they launch right into stories about play time and lists of favorite toys." Developing the exhibit has been great fun, especially the unexpected workplace conversations that include questions like, "Do you think we have enough trolls yet?"

Roberts has worked on exhibits for the Minnesota Historical Society for more than 20 years. She was born and raised in Moorhead, MN. Roberts attended Moorhead State University (now Minnesota State University Moorhead) for her undergraduate degree in Humanities and Arts Management and the University of Minnesota for her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History. She is co-author, with Adam Scher, of the accompanying book, "Toys of the '50s, '60s, and '70s."

Adam Scher, Senior Curator and Exhibit Collections Representative
Adam Scher curates MNHS’s three-dimensional artifact collections, including more than 4,700 toys and dolls. Born in 1960, Scher "played with many of these toys and researching their history – particularly their advertising campaigns – was like a trip down memory lane." He says the work of collecting personal stories has made this project a labor of love.

Scher was born in Baltimore, MD. He received his B.A. in American Studies from the University of Maryland and his M.A. in Museum Studies from George Washington University. A museum professional for nearly 30 years, he has held positions at the National Museum of American History, the Lynchburg Museum System in Lynchburg, VA, and the American Civil War Center in Richmond, VA. He is co-author, with Kate Roberts, of the accompanying book, "Toys of the '50s, '60s, and '70s."

Dan Spock, Director, Minnesota History Center
Dan Spock fondly remembers playing with the astronaut toy Major Matt Mason. It came with a bunch of "cool" accessories including a space station and moon crawler.

Spock leads the exhibits and multimedia programs as well as the MNHS diversity and inclusiveness initiative. Under his leadership his team has developed a number of dynamic exhibits including "Minnesota and the Civil War," "The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862" and "Then Now Wow," the largest exhibit MNHS has ever created. His team has also developed exhibits that travel nationally, including "The 1968 Exhibit" and now "Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s." Spock has a B.A. in art from Antioch College.

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.