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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wanna Play? Grab Your Toys.

The mission today, should you decide to accept it, is to go back... way back. Jimmy Castor may help us start our ride on the time machine best with his immoral lyrics from "Troglodyte." The tune may create a little nostalgia. So let's call upon upon the song from the Jimmy Castor Bunch.

"What we're gonna do right here is go back, way back, back into time.
When the only people that existed were troglodytes...cave men...
cave women...Neanderthal...troglodytes. Let's take the average
cave man at home, listening to his stereo. Sometimes he'd get up,
try to do his thing. He'd begin to move, something like this:
'' When he got tired of dancing alone, he'd look
in the mirror: 'Gotta find a woman gotta find a woman gotta find a
woman gotta find a woman.' He'd go down to the lake where all the
woman would be swimming or washing clothes or something. He'd look
around and just reach in and grab one. 'Come here...come here.'
He'd grab her by the hair. You can't do that today, fellas, cause
it might come off. You'd have a piece of hair in your hand and she'd
be swimming away from you (ha-ha). This one woman just lay there,
wet and frightened. He said: 'Move...move.' She got up. She was a
big woman. BIG woman. Her name was Bertha. Bertha Butt..."

How about a look at the history of some of the playthings that occupied hour after hour of the days of the baby boomer? Both boys and girls, moms and dads enjoyed these toys in their prime, and many people surely continue doing so today. Part of their popularity is due to great innovation and superb construction. Most likely, the amusements will live on to entertain "kids at heart" of the future.

This information has been compiled from online sites. I have included the web addresses for each toy. Thanks to all for the interesting fact finding. Do you remember the following?

Slinky  (

In 1943, Richard James was a naval engineer trying to develop a meter designed to monitor horsepower on naval battleships. Richard was working with tension springs when one of the springs fell to the ground. He saw how the spring kept moving after it hit the ground and an idea for a toy was born.

Richard James told his wife Betty, "I think I can make a toy out of this" and then spent the next two years figuring out the best steel gauge and coil to use for the toy. Betty James found a name for the new toy after discovering in the dictionary that the word "Slinky" is a Swedish word meaning traespiral - sleek or sinuous.
Slinky debuted at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the 1945 Christmas season and then at the 1946 American Toy Fair.

Richard James and Betty James founded James Spring & Wire Company (renamed James Industries) with $500 dollars and began production. Today, all Slinkys are made in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania using the original equipment designed and engineered by Richard James. Each one is made from 80 feet of wire and over a quarter billion Slinkys have been sold worldwide. (Mary Bellis, "History of the Slinky Toy,", The New York Times Company, 2011)

View-Master  (

View-Master was first introduced at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Intended as an alternative to the postcard with 7 3D Kodachrome images, it was originally marketed through photo shops, stationary stores and scenic attraction gift shops.

The View-Master system was invented by William Gruber, an organ maker and avid photographer who lived in Portland, Oregon. He had the idea to use the old idea of the stereoscope and update it with the new Kodachrome color film that had just hit the market. A chance meeting with Harold Graves, the president of Sawyer's, Inc. (a company that specialized in picture post cards) got the idea off the ground and quickly took over the postcard business at Sawyer's.

The US Military were keen advocates of the View-Master and had specially commissioned sets of reels produced to aid with artillery spotting and aircraft identification during World War II. They purchased many millions of reels for this purpose, together with 10's of thousands of Model B viewers.

In 1951 Sawyers purchased the Tru-Vue Company and importantly also obtained the rights to present Disney characters on their reels. In late 1966 View-Master was purchased by GAF (General Aniline & Film Corporation), a company mainly concerned with film processing and cameras. By the 1970's the Photo Consumer Division was having a great deal of success with the View-Master product, so much so that the other operations were discontinued. Gaf(uk)ltd introduced blister packs, referred to internally as 'tricards''. The tricard concept was initially conceived in Europe and only later adopted in the USA.

Over the years 3D reels have been produced for Disneyland (since the opening), Many TV shows (you could see the Munsters in color and in 3D), Movies (E.T. Jurassic Park) and even for the US military for airplane/ship identification and range estimation.

Today this tradition continues, but holds a back seat to subject matter aimed at a much younger audience. These are the subjects you typically find at your local Target store. (Eddie Bowers, "View-Master Resource," Fisher-Price Inc., 2007)

Silly Putty (

One of the most important resources needed for World War II war production was rubber. It was essential for tires (which kept the trucks moving) and boots (which kept the soldiers moving). It was also important for gas masks, life rafts, and even bombers. Beginning early in the war, the Japanese attacked many of the rubber-producing countries in Asia, drastically affecting the supply route. To conserve rubber, civilians in the United States were asked to donate old rubber tires, rubber raincoats, rubber boots, and anything else that consisted at least in part of rubber. Rations were placed even on gasoline to hinder people from driving their cars. Propaganda posters instructed people in the importance of carpooling and showed them how to care for their household rubber products so they would last the duration of the war.

Even with this home front effort, the rubber shortage threatened war production. The government decided to ask U.S. companies to invent a synthetic rubber that had similar properties but that could be made with non-restricted ingredients. In 1943, engineer James Wright was attempting to discover a synthetic rubber while working in General Electric's laboratory in New Haven, Conn. when he discovered something unusual. In a test tube, Wright had combined boric acid and silicone oil, producing an interesting gob of goo.

Wright conducted a multitude of tests on the substance and discovered it could bounce when dropped, stretch farther than regular rubber, didn't collect mold, and had a very high melting temperature. Unfortunately, though it was a fascinating substance, it didn't contain the properties needed to replace rubber. Still, Wright assumed there had to be some practical use for the interesting putty. Unable to come up with an idea himself, Wright sent samples of the putty to scientists around the world. However, none of them found a use for the substance either.

In 1949, the ball of goo found its way to Ruth Fallgatter, an owner of a toy store who regularly produced a catalog of toys. Advertising consultant Peter Hodgson convinced Fallgatter to place globs of the goo in plastic cases and add it to her catalog. Selling for $2 each, the "bouncing putty" outsold everything else in the catalog except for a set of 50-cent Crayola crayons. After a year of strong sales, Fallgatter decided to drop the bouncing putty from her catalog.

Hodgson saw an opportunity. Already $12,000 in debt, Hodgson borrowed another $147 and bought a large quantity of the putty in 1950. He then had Yale students separate the putty into one-ounce balls and place them inside red plastic eggs. Since "bouncing putty" didn't describe all of the putty's unusual and entertaining attributes, Hodgson thought hard about what to call the substance. After much contemplation and numerous options suggested, he decided to name the goo "Silly Putty" and to sell each egg for $1.

In February 1950, Hodgson took Silly Putty to the International Toy Fair in New York but most people there did not see potential for the new toy. Luckily, Hodgson did manage to get Silly Putty stocked at both Nieman-Marcus and Doubleday bookstores.

A few months later, a reporter for The New Yorker stumbled across Silly Putty at a Doubleday bookstore and took home an egg. Fascinated, the writer wrote an article in the "Talk of the Town" section that appeared on August 26, 1950. Immediately, orders for Silly Putty started pouring in.

Silly Putty, marked as "The Real Solid Liquid," was at first considered a novelty item (i.e. a toy for adults). However, by 1955 the market shifted and the toy became a huge success with children. Added to bouncing, stretching, and molding, kids could spend hours using the putty to copy images from comics and then distort the images by bending and stretching.

In 1957, kids could watch Silly Putty T.V. commercials that were strategically placed during The Howdy Doody Show and Captain Kangaroo.

From there, there was no end to the popularity of Silly Putty. Children continue to play with the simple gob of goo often referred to as the "toy with one moving part." (Jennifer Rosenberg, "The History of Silly Putty,", The New York Times Company, 2011)

Hula Hoop  (

The hula hoop is an ancient invention - no modern company and no single inventor can claim that they invented the first hula hoop. The Greeks used hooping as a form of exercise. Older hoops have been made from metal, bamboo, wood, grasses, and even vines. However, modern companies "re-invented" their own versions of the hula hoop using unusual materials, for example; plastic hula hoops with added bits of glitter and noise makers, and hoops that are collapsible.

Around 1300, hooping came to Great Britain, homemade versions of the toy became very popular. In the early 1800s, British sailors first witnessed hula dancing in the Hawaiian Islands. Hula dancing and hooping look somewhat similar and the name "hula hoop" came together.

Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin founded the Wham-O company which helped popularize another ancient toy, the Frisbee.
Knerr and Melin started the Wham-O company from their Los Angeles garage in 1948. The men were marketing a slingshot originally invented for training pet falcons and hawks {it slung meat at the birds). This slingshot was named "Wham-O" because of the sound it made when it hit the target. Wham-O also became the company's name.

Wham-O has become the most successful manufacturer of hula hoops in modern times. They trademarked the name Hula Hoop ® and start manufacturing the toy out of the new plastic Marlex in 1958.
Twenty million Wham-O hula hoops sold for $1.98 in the first six months. (Mary Bellis, "Hula Hoop,", The New York Times Company, 2011)

Frisbee  (

The Frisbie Baking Company (1871-1958) of Bridgeport, Connecticut, made pies that were sold to many New England colleges. Hungry college students soon discovered that the empty pie tins could be tossed and caught, providing endless hours of game and sport. Many colleges have claimed to be the home of 'he who was first to fling.' Yale College has even argued that in 1820, a Yale undergraduate named Elihu Frisbie grabbed a passing collection tray from the chapel and flung it out into the campus, thereby becoming the true inventor of the Frisbie and winning glory for Yale. That tale is unlikely to be true since the words "Frisbie's Pies" was embossed in all the original pie tins and from the word "Frisbie" was coined the common name for the toy.

In 1948, a Los Angeles building inspector named Walter Frederick Morrison and his partner Warren Franscioni invented a plastic version of the Frisbie that could fly further and with better accuracy than a tin pie plate. Morrison's father was also an inventor, who invented the automotive sealed-beam headlight. Another interesting tidbit was that Morrison had just returned to America after World War II, where he had been a prisoner in the infamous Stalag 13. His partnership with Warren Franscioni, who was also a war veteran, ended before their product had achieved any real success.

Morrison (after his split with Franscioni) produced a plastic Frisbie called the Pluto Platter, to cash in on the growing popularity of UFOs with the American public. The Pluto Platter has become the basic design for all Frisbies. The outer third of the Frisbie disc is called the 'Morrison Slope', listed in the patent. Rich Knerr and A.K. 'Spud' Melin were the owners of a new toy company called 'Wham-O'. Knerr and Melin also marketed the Hula-Hoop, the Super Ball and the Water Wiggle. They pair first saw Morrison's Pluto Platter in late 1955. They liked what they saw and convinced Morrison to sell them the rights to his design.

With a deal signed, Wham-O began production (1/13/1957) of more Pluto Platters. The next year, the original Frisbie Baking Company shut down and coincidentally Fred Morrison was awarded a patent (Design patent 183,626) for his flying disc. Morrison received over one million dollars in royalties for his invention.

The word 'Frisbee' is pronounced the same as the word "Frisbie." Rich Knerr (Wham-O) was in search of a catchy new name to help increase sales, after hearing about the original use of the terms "Frisbie" and "Frisbie-ing." He borrowed from the two words to create the registered trademark Frisbee ®. Sales soared for the toy, due to Wham-O's clever marketing of Frisbee playing as a new sport.

In 1964, the first professional model went on sale. Ed Headrick was the inventor at Wham-O who patented Wham-O's designs for the modern frisbee (U.S. patent 3,359,678). Ed Headrick's frisbee with its band of raised ridges called the Rings of Headrick had stablized flight as opposed to the wobbly flight of its predecessor the Pluto Platter.

Today the fifty year old Frisbee® is owned by Mattel Toy Manufacturers, only one of at least sixty manufacturers of flying discs. Wham-O sold over one hundred million units before the selling the toy to Mattel. (Mary Bellis, "The First Flight of the Frisbee,", The New York Times Company, 2011)

Duncan Yo-yo  (

Although the yo-yo has been around for centuries, yo-yos were almost nowhere to be found for many years. Thanks to Duncan Toys Company founder Donald F. Duncan, however, the toys known as yo-yos once again became popular in the early 1900s. Yo-yos are now one of the world's all-time best-selling toys.

Donald F. Duncan, the creator of the Duncan Toys Company, saw his very first yo-yo in 1928 and immediately became interested in it. Duncan, an entrepreneur, teamed up with Hearst Newspapers in 1930 to hold a yo-yo competition. During a 30-day event that Duncan held in connection with this competition, he sold more than 3 million yo-yos.

After nearly 20 years in business, Duncan built a new yo-yo factory dedicated exclusively to the building of yo-yos. Because the company knew it was important to continue to build wooden yo-yos, the factory was built in Luck, Wisconsin, which is an area rich in hard maple.

Duncan's first television advertising appeared in 1959, just a few years after television had started to become popular in most American homes. The first ad campaign focused on the Philadelphia area. Thanks to the television commercials, sales in the Philadelphia area increased from $20,000 in 1958 to $100,000 in 1959. In 1960, Duncan continued with its television commercials, and its national sales increased from $2 million in 1961 to $7 million in 1962.

The yo-yo fad did not last long. By 1965, Duncan Yo-Yos was suffering from decreased sales and a long court battle against the Royal Tops Company over the trademark of the toy's name. The courts ruled that "yo-yo" had become a generic term, so the Duncan Toy Company was no longer the only company that could market yo-yos using the term. The court case bankrupted both companies.

Flambeau Products Corporation bought the Duncan name in 1968. They also bought the company's goodwill, which, in business terms, means its reputation and product superiority. Flambeau now manufactures yo-yos from its plant in Columbus, Indiana.

In 1995, Duncan took an advertising leap of faith and created television commercials suggesting that yo-yos were a better alternative to video games. This ad campaign struck a chord with consumers around the globe. In 1996, the yo-yo became a hot seller in Britain, Australia and Japan. The Duncan Toys Company continues to operate to this day, and Duncan Yo-yos continue to be made by Flambeau Products Corporation. (Chad Buleen, "Duncan Yo-Yo History,", Demand Media Inc., 1999-2011)

Pogo Stick  (

There is a legend that, "either George Hansburg or a anonymous German was traveling through Burma when he meet a poor farmer with a daughter named Pogo. Pogo wanted to go to temple every day to pray, but couldn't because she had no shoes to wear for the long walk through the mud and rocks. So the poor farmer built a jumping stick for her, and when George Hansburg or the anonymous German returned home, he made and sold a similar jumping stick of his own."

Yes, the above story is just a legend and not true, however, George Hansburg did patent the first pogo stick in 1919.

A boatload of wooden pogo sticks were exported from Germany to the US based Gimble Brothers Department Store in 1919. However, the wooden sticks somehow rotted and warped during the journey. That same year, Gimble asked George Hansburg, an Illinois baby furniture and toy designer, to improve the design of the wooden pogo sticks. Hansburg created a painted all metal, enclosed-spring pogo stick, and manufactured them in an Elmhurst, N.Y. factory.

In an effort to promote pogo sticks, George Hansburg taught the Ziegfeld Follies girls how to pogo. In 1920, Ziegfeld featured a marriage performed on pogo sticks. The roaring twenties proved to be the height of popularity for pogo sticks and all kinds of pogo stick stunts and publicity tricks occurred.

In 1947, George Hansburg invented the Master Pogo, an improved steel pogo stick with a longer-lasting spring. (Mary Bellis, "Pogo Stick - Pogostick,", The New York Times Company, 2011)

In the early 1970’s, Hansburg sold his company to a local Ellenville, New York businessman named Irwin Arginisky. Though sales have never been as brisk as they were in those roaring 20’s, Pogos never stopped being made, and today, like a lot of old-school toys, they’re enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Though there’s the brightly colored “Go-Go Pogo” from competing toy company Pierce, sticks with plastic super-hero torsos for handlebars (Spider Man and Wonder Woman, for example), and gimmicky accessories like ‘bounce-ometers’ and plastic ornaments, the classic no-logo models from SBI are the sticks that bounce best with consumers over the long haul. ("Pogo Stick History," American Pogo Stick Company, 2002-2005)
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