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