Popular Toys and Games During the Flu Epidemic of 1918


The Flu epidemic of 1918 was the world’s last major pandemic. It made a lot of people sick, resulting in people wearing face masks and staying home; sound familiar? Just like today, families and children needed something to do, and games and toys were the best antidotes to boredom and irritability.

I contacted the Strong National Museum of Play’s Chris Bensch, Vice President for Collections, who was kind enough to provide me with a list of toys and games that were popular in 1918. Here are six I chose to share with you. All of the pictures are compliments of the Strong National Museum of Play.

Shown above, “Big Game Hunter” was published by the Schoenhut Company, known today as a creator and purveyor of child-sized musical instruments. It’s interesting to read the front of the box. Even though the illustration shows a little girl, she is an observer of the boys shooting animal targets. The box cover, therefore, passively asserts that “Big Game Hunter” was for boys.


The Kewpie Doll, shown above, was the hot toy of the early 20th century. Looking a little like Cupid, hence the name Kewpie, and based on a comic strip by Rose O’Neil, the dolls found their way into the arms of little girls throughout the 20th century.

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I am not familiar with Kitty Clover (although there was a Kitty Clover Potato Chip Company), but her paper dolls were popular for children stuck in the house. Interestingly, in light of the flu epidemic at the time, one of the outfits is for a nurse.

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I don’t know what the Meteor Game, made by the A.C. Gilbert Company, was all about except that, as the box says, it was “A Most Fascinating And Interesting Designing Outfit.” It appears that it was marketed to girls as they are playing while the boy on the box cover sits and watches.


What better way to entertain oneself during the Pre-Lego years than with the tried and true Tinker Toys. Invented in 1914, the Tinker Toy Company sold two and one-half million units in the first four years of its existence.

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It is startling to discover that Charlie Chaplin was so famous by 1918 that there was already a licensed (at least I hope it was licensed) doll manufactured by Louis Amberg & Company.

In one hundred years, people will look back on the toys our children are playing with today. What do you think some future writers will choose upon which to focus?

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