When I think of the 4th of July (what my calendar more formally calls Independence Day), I conjure up images of parades featuring plenty of red, white, and blue crepe paper. I smell the aroma of burgers on the grill. And I envision fireworks exploding into colorful sprays of light across an inky nighttime sky. But I don’t often think of toys and other playful products for the holiday. Still, it didn’t take much time for my investigation of The Strong’s extensive collections to turn up an interesting array of patriotic items to suit 4th of July celebrations over the years.
Long before I began working in museums, I studied photography as an undergraduate student. My interest began as a teenager, sparked by a love of black and white documentary photographs. I was captivated by the universal language the medium spoke and the idea that with the push of a button, a single moment could be captured, documented, and kept forever. You can imagine my delight when I recently found myself tasked with sorting through photographs from our collections here at The Strong.
A beautiful collie stands in a meadow of blue and yellow flowers. His brown and white fur blows in the wind. He looks well tempered and loyal. I affectionately call him Sammy, but when I roll him over to rub his belly, I am confronted with an advertisement for Butter-Krust Bread. What gives? Sammy’s more than just a dog; he’s an advertising toy, just one of hundreds of similar toys distributed by businesses as advertisements between 1895 and 1920.
Do you remember getting mail? Not email. Not bills. Not letters from credit card companies enthusiastically informing you that you’ve been “pre-approved!” Actual mail—a letter, a note, or a card. You know, when someone wrote you a message, adhered a stamp to it, and placed it in a mailbox, just to let you know they were thinking of you? Chances are you don’t receive this sort of mail nearly as often as you once did, likely due to the influx of digital technology, which facilitates faster, cheaper, and more instantaneous methods of communication.
Is there a box of chocolates in your Valentine’s Day plans? If you’re going to give (or are expecting to receive) candy as a token of love, you’re part of a romantic tradition that began more than a century ago. In the 1890s, candy makers finally glommed onto Valentine’s Day as an occasion to promote their products, even though they’d already managed to integrate confectionery into other holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Since that time, we’ve definitely taken their marketing message to heart. According to the U.S.
“The Strong is a national treasure.”