Deur Dr Eugene Brink
Odds are that you don’t recognise anything familiar in contemporary toys. The stuff we as adults used to play with now seems antiquated and obsolete to our kids and grandchildren.
As the pace of technological change has accelerated in the 21st century, no aspect of our lives has been left untouched and toys are certainly no exception. Toy cars and dolls will probably always be with us – after all, boys will be boys and girls will be girls – but even these have undergone significant changes – and will keep on changing. Others have largely stood the test of time in their original form.
The favourite toy we get nostalgic about is perhaps no longer recognisable to us. Some have completely disappeared or have not (not yet, anyway) been patented – remember the hover boards from the 1985 film Back to the Future that would have been commonplace by 2015?
“People who take a nostalgic look at the evolution of children’s toys will inevitably see that there’s been many different influential toys throughout history,” writes Patricia Sarkar on the Geeks website.
Anyway, let’s shortly chronicle the pedigree and evolution of toys to see what changes have evolved – and which inventions are still in use today.
“Mass production of toys began during the Industrial Revolution. This pushed their cost down so that most families could provide children with manufactured toys. The first jigsaw puzzle was released in the mid-1700s and alphabet blocks were patented in the late 1800s,” writes Lynne Huysamen on the parenting website www.kaboutjie.com.
Sarkar says in the late 1800s, some of the most popular toys included balls and hoops made from a variety of materials.
According to Huysamen, the 20th century gave rise to a toy cornucopia. “Plasticine, Meccano and toy cars became new favourites and soft toys that could be cuddled were introduced in the early 1900s, with teddy bears taking the top spot.”
Sarkar adds that the early 1900s saw the launch of rocking horses, dolls, pedal cars, and various forms of playground equipment.
Tiki-toki.com reports that in 1903, Crayola launched the good old crayon. Bless their souls because crayons are, of course, still in use today and teach millions of kids to colour, draw and write before they go to school. In the same year, the much-cherished teddy bear would also be born. An interesting and little-known fact is that the teddy bear was named after US president Theodore Roosevelt, whose nickname was “Teddy”.
Sarkar points out that the yo-yo, which is said to have originated in Greece or China, became commercialised in the 1920s and so did finger paint and BB guns. All these, albeit in a somewhat different shape and demeanour, are still very much in use today, and so is the board game Monopoly, which was launched in 1933.
“Plastic and metal toys became commonplace following the Second World War and in the 1950’s Lego, Barbie dolls and skateboards surfaced,” Huysamen says. The Slinky (a helical spring that stretches and can bounce up and down) and another favourite board game, Scrabble, would also be developed in the aftermath of World War II.
The good old Frisbee, Barbie dolls and Lego were launched in the latter half of the 1950s. In 1977 Rubik’s Cube would come on stream. “It’s not uncommon to see both kids and adults still being entertained by this toy today,” says Sarkar.
In the 1980s Pictionary, a guessing word game, and various figurines from TV series such as Masters of the Universe were launched. During the 1990s the Super Soaker (a toy gun that shoots water with great power), Power Ranger figurines and computer games became popularised.
A lot has changed in the 21st century, although many trusted toys have survived in their original form or laid the foundation for what was to come. “So, just how much has the progression of modern technology changed the evolution of children’s toys? It would be difficult to debate that kids living in the 21st century definitely play differently than those from previous centuries,” says Sarkar.
She states that perhaps this can be directly attributed to advances in technology, such as a rise in internet access, home video game systems, and even smart toys. “For instance, the first dolls that kids were exposed to amounted to little more than inanimate objects that drew upon a child’s imagination to promote fun. Today, dolls and many other toys boast their own intelligence software via infused electronics.”
She points to an American survey conducted in 2014, which found that the usage of touchscreen devices trumped many traditional toys that have been around for decades among children under twelve years old.
Lynne Huysamen, 19 May 2018, “The evolution of toys”, https://kaboutjie.com/entertainment/the-evolution-of-toys/.
Patricia Sarkar, 2016, “Evolution of children’s toys”, https://geeks.media/evolution-of-children-s-toys.
Tiki-toki.com, n.d., “The evolution of toys”, https://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/66076/The-Evolution-of-Toys/#vars!date=1879-10-30_08:44:37!.