Museum exhibit features Chicago Toy & Game Invention

Ruthblogheader On April 26th, the Elmhurst Historical Museum opens its doors to the public with a very special exhibit: "Toys in the 'Hood".  Located in a nearby suburb of Chicago, the museum will host play-filled displays that chronicle the history and creation of classic toys invented and/or produced in the Chicagoland area.  Visitors will have the opportunity to engage in fun, interactive, educational displays that capture the experiences of play, creativity, and invention.

Lance Tawzer, Curator of the Elmhurst Historical Museum, spoke with me recently about the exhibit and the fun that's in store for the public.Toys in the Hood logo

Can you share your inspiration for the toy invention exhibit?  Lance:  I read Richard Gottleib's article on Global Toy News last October about Chicago being considered the toy and game invention capital of the world.  I liked the idea that the 'inventors' were tied to the toys.  While researching the topic, I discovered Tim Walsh's book, Timeless Toys.  The museum contracted Tim as a content development consultant, and he has been instrumental in helping us tell the story.  Our "Toys in the 'Hood" exhibit is meant to provide an important regional cultural connection.

What do you want visitors to know about toy invention in Chicago?  Lance:  We want to provide our audience with an awareness of Chicago's importance as a leader in toy innovation and production.  Some of the best known and most significant toys and games have been invented or produced in Chicago.  From the iconic Radio Flyer wagons, to collectible TY Beanie Babies, to the internationally known Happy Meal toys, Chicago has played a major role in creating some of the world's most memorable toys, games, and play experiences.  We want the take away for our audience to be, "I never knew so many toys came from Chicago".

What are some of the toys, games, and companies that will be showcased in your exhibit?  Lance:  There will be approximately 28 inventors or invention companies featured in the exhibit:  Radio Flyer, TY, Learning Resources, Learning Curve, Cadaco, Big Monster Toys, Kaskey Kids, Playskool, Fertig Stubenfoll Design Group, Rehkemper, Tootsie Toys, and The Marketing Store.  Some toys being featured in the exhibit include: Lincoln Logs, Kubit2Me, Tinker Toys, Lite Brite, and Operation.

How did you select the toy companies and inventors that are participating?  Lance:  We sent out feelers to everyone we could think of in the Chicagoland area that is connected with toys or games in some way or another.  The response we received has provided us with a wide variety of fun, engaging exhibits.

What types of information and artifacts will be on display?  Lance:  A fascinating aspect of the exhibit is that we are telling the story of the invention and development process of toys and games, not just showcasing the final product.  A video with Kim Vandenbroucke explains the toy invention process, we have the Operation game and Simon game prototypes on display, and a Lite Brite packaging prototype as well.  There will be original drawings, models, production molds, and finished product.

ElmhurstMuseum_photo Do you have plans for any special events during the exhibit?  Lance:  There will be a really fun Toy Fair Extravaganza to kick off the exhibit for the summer on June 26th, from 1 to 5.  The afternoon will include a Lincoln Log building contest, prizes, a group game of "Blurt" with Tim Walsh (inventor of the game), and lots more.  John Spinello, the creator of Operation, will autograph copies of the game being donated by Hasbro.  Additional programs include a Young Inventor's Workshop in July, Tim Walsh and Mary Couzin will be giving lectures, and we will have a Make & Take Workshop with Revell Models in August.  It will be a crazy summer, but loads of fun.

How long does the toy invention exhibit run and who should attend?  Lance:  "Toys in the 'Hood" runs April 26th through September 18th.  The exhibit is perfect for families with children, teens, fun-loving adults, toy collectors and all advocates of play!

(The Elmhurst Historical Museum is located at 120 E. Park Avenue, Elmhurst, IL)

5 thoughts

  1. Great article Ruth! I’m glad I was asked to be part of this exhibit — people always seem to be astonished when I tell them that Chicago is a “hot spot” for toy and game invention. Nice that Lance and the Elmhurst Historical Museum took the time to put together this exhibit showcasing this bit of our history.

  2. I saw it yesterday – it’s amazing and there’s an incredible amount of interesting information throughout! Lots of stuff to pay with and watch – it’ll be a great excuse for families to jump on the train to Elmhurst all summer long!

  3. Terrific article, Ruth and Lance!
    Tanya Thompson from ThinkFun and I checked out the exhibit yesterday. They did a tremendous job! It is engaging, informative and inter-active. We are collaberating to bring parts of it to ChiTAG this fall. So many pieces on exhibit are on loan from other museums and personal collections, we couldn’t get more than parts. It is worth the trip to see the exhibit as a whole. Kudos to Lance for his hard work and bringing so many people together on this project.

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