The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Monday, November 7, 2011

Best Toys and Gadgets Ever ... Birthday Gifts Remembered

I had a birthday yesterday. It was wonderful. Saw our daughter in her high school play, got calls from loved ones, and many well wishes on Facebook (I have to say the birthday calendar is the thing I like best about FB), and received some thoughtful, entertaining gifts (yeah, I still like toys after a fashion ... come on admit it, you do too, deep down, where you don't let people in very often). I got to thinking about great toys and gadgets of decades gone by and thought I post my list of the best, in my ever so humble opinion.

  • Let's get sentimental first ... and get that out of the way. The Teddy Bear, that favorite from the early twentieth century, is still going strong in more forms than I'm sure the creator ever imagined. Who doesn't have stuffed animals everywhere when they have little kids? Where do all those things come from?! Really!
  • Building blocks: Those simple painted wooden shapes that kids made so many things out of and enjoyed knocking over repeatedly. In this category, I also add Bill Dings (I'm not sure of that spelling), the wooden blocks shaped like people who could be stacked by heads or shoulders. Not as cool as blocks, but still entertaining ... and no batteries or recharging required, a plus for adults.
  • Legos have to go with the building blocks. Of course, I have Lego envy over the sets kids have today, which far outstrip any Legos I ever played with. Still, cool, creative, and no batteries required.  I mean, today, you can build a Lego robot, amazing!
  • I suppose you have to include Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and Kinex in this building category. More sturdy, cool toys for tomorrow's engineers. 
  • Moving out of building, to moving, let's start with Tonka toys. The big dump trucks were crazy strong. I know kids who rode them down steep hills and driveways (when parents weren't looking). And there was that fire truck ... a sort of holy grail of Tonka-dom that few ever received. 
  • For short term entertainment in motion, gliders and rubber band powered balsa wood planes were great ... while they lasted or until they got stuck up a tree or on a roof. For the older set (yes, adults, I'm including you), the gas powered, radio controlled aircraft are the natural extension of the early childhood planes. Yeah, adults, everybody's on to you. It's okay. Play with your toys!
  • Bikes, trikes and Big Wheels continue the run through transportation. And again, there are lots of impressive bikes for adults these days with more gears than any car will ever have. 
  • Lionel train sets ... there's no need to add to this. Classic!
  • Pedal cars ... I remember my fire chiefs metal pedal car fondly. Kids today have the most popular push car variation of the pedal car, with the single most sold car shape in the world in the Little Tykes Cozy Coupe. There is no more stable, durable car for kids anywhere (sorry Tonka). 
  • Moving on from transportation to action, we have action figures, beginning with the classic 12" high hero G.I. Joe (a personal favorite) and all the men, women, and aliens of action that followed, yes, including those robot/car hybrids the Transformers. Endless hours of imaginary adventures and crazy numbers of accessories and vehicles await the youngsters who venture down this road. 
  • You can't head into the world of action figures without mentioning dolls, including the Queen of the doll world since the 1950s, Barbie and her endless accessories, including the most little used accessory in Barbie's set, Ken! A recent big hitter in this class is the American Girl doll.
  • Sticking in the realm of figures just a moment longer, who can forget that tuberous man and woman about town, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. Weird and constant since the 1950s. 
  • The Potato Heads shift us into a cooking theme, and there you have to mention the Easy Bake Oven, I believe. It now has a new incarnation that cooks without a light bulb (although that seems as heretical as Neco Wafers updating their flavors [which didn't work well]). 
  • Okay, this is running long and my time is short this morning: let's add from the art world the Etch a Sketch, Lite Brite, Spirograph, and the felt board people and their vinyl counterparts featuring characters from many children's movies. 
  • I'm leaving many, many out, including Army Men, ant farms, Silly Putty, Playdough, Slinky, yo yos (Duncan were the best when I was a kid), and more to leap ahead to the final listing for me: video games. My younger brother had the first video game console in our house (Pong, followed by an Atari system). Who knew where these things would go? I received Goldeneye Reloaded yesterday and the graphics are amazing, especially when compared with the original Goldeneye game for the Nintendo. 
There it is. It's a fun list but it leaves a lot out. What are your favorites. Chime in and add to the fun.

For other lists,  you can see: http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/toys.html and http://www.squidoo.com/best-toys-in-the-world-ever and http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/07/09/the-100-greatest-childrens-toys/ and many others. Just google it!

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