When the Old Becomes New – Timeless Toy Designs


Modern Version of Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone (detail), 2008, The Strong, Rochester, NY

“Hey! I had one of those growing up!” is a frequent statement we hear from guests roaming through The Strong. With such a large and diverse collection on display, everyone young and old can discover personal treasures behind the glass cases. The nostalgia of smiling childhood memories brings joy, as toy companies have discovered.

Modern Version of Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone, 2008, The Strong, Rochester, NYAlthough children are the key demographic for most toys, adults often make the purchasing decisions. So toys must also appeal to the grownups. And toy companies have learned that there is no better way to market to parents (or grandparents) than to produce toys that evoke nostalgic emotions and make them remember their own childhoods. One example from past few years is Fisher-Price’s line of “classics” toys, modern replicas of favorite toys in the past such as the Chatter Telephone. First introduced in 1961, the Chatter Telephone is a rotary phone and pull-toy, with interactive eyes and a distinct ring when pulled. It has gone through many makeovers over the years, but the new “classics” version brings back the original and timeless look of the toy—despite the dominance of smartphones in the real world.

But the return to the classics is not limited to specific toys. Sometimes it’s all about the material. By the late 20th century, plastic toys were much more common than the wooden and metal toys that came before them. Toy companies that did not join the widespread change to plastic struggled to compete with their plastic competitors. Fast-forward to today, when some of the most successful toy companies focus much of their business on going back to the simple wooden toys. Melissa & Doug, a popular toy company started by a husband and wife duo in their basement in 1988, prides itself on its wooden puzzles, food sets, and kitchen accessories. The wooden toys are beautifully crafted and have a vintage quality to them. Even while competing with flashy and technology-driven toys, the timeless quality of wooden toys is not lost.

Melissa & Doug Pizza Party play set, 2006 The Strong, Rochester, NY

We all have a kid inside of us, no matter what our age. No wonder we want to share who that kid was and their favorite childhood toys with generations to come. Some toys have also found a magical formula for success and continue their popularity no matter how many years go by. So next time you are at The Strong, track down your favorite childhood toy and share them with us by posting a photo on our Facebook page and tagging it ‪#‎Ihadthat. And if you’re curious about what staff from The Strong have said about their own childhood faves, you can find those with the #Ihadthat tag too.

For more on toys, games, and all sorts of other stuff for play—past and present—from Bethany and her museum colleagues, visit The Strong's Play Stuff Blog.

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