Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history. Learn even more about the museum’s archival materials, books, catalogs, and other ephemera through its Tumblr page.

“It’s Time to Light the Lights”—Spotlight on Bonnie Erickson


The Muppet Show Board Game of the Stars, Parker Brothers, 1979

It’s quite likely that you’re already familiar with the creations of artist and designer Bonnie Erickson. If you’ve ever watched or played with the Muppets or if you’ve memorized all of the North American professional sports mascots, then you’ve already admired Erickson’s handiwork. She is best known for creating the iconic Muppet characters Miss Piggy, Statler, and Waldorf, as well as professional league mascots Phillie Phanatic (MLB’s Philadelphia Phillies) and Youppi! (currently with the NHL’s Montréal Canadiens), among others.

In 1970, Bonnie Erickson joined Jim Henson’s Muppet workshop as a costume designer. Within a few years, she had already designed and built several new Muppet characters, including Miss Piggy. Erickson and her husband Wayde Harrison launched their own production, design, and marketing company called Harrison/Erickson, Inc. in 1977. Together, Harrison and Erickson created characters for commercials, theater, and sports mascots. Erickson continued to consult on projects for the Jim Henson Company and Children’s Television Workshop (later, Sesame Workshop). She also developed toy and other product design concepts for licensed brands, such as Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

Plaster prototype of Miss Piggy vase, about 1978

Two years after the passing of Jim Henson, his widow Jane and several of Jim’s colleagues (Arthur Novell, Albert Gottesman, and Richard Wedemeyer) formed The Jim Henson Legacy. This organization dedicated itself to preserving and perpetuating Henson’s contributions to the worlds of puppetry, television, motion pictures, special effects, and media technology. Erickson joined the foundation as a trustee, and later, president; she also served as the executive director of the organization from 2010-2014. In 2016, Erickson coordinated a large donation which established the Jim Henson Collection here at The Strong (a portion of which was exhibited for thousands of museum visitors to enjoy).

Pages from Sesame Street style guide, “Character Book featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets,” 1979.

Erickson has also generously contributed a variety of materials from her own celebrated career to The Strong. The Strong’s archives house the Bonnie Erickson papers, a compilation of design concepts, illustrations, style guides, product tear sheets, catalog pages, notes, publicity, and other information relating to licensed products created by Erickson. The museum’s object collections include prototypes and production copies of her dolls, figurines, clothing, and collectibles. These materials encompass not only the Muppets and Sesame Street stars, but also characters from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and other original creations (such as a Bette Midler mermaid doll!). Viewing Erickson’s papers and prototypes together is a great way to learn about the toy design process from start to finish. Next time you catch a glimpse of Miss Piggy (or the Phillie Phanatic) on television, take a minute to think about the woman behind these distinctive characters—her own career deserves some time in the spotlight!  


Four Decades on the Oregon Trail

If one sign of a great game is staying power, then The Oregon Trail stands out for over forty years of enduring popularity. The game has also outlasted many different platforms. If, like me, you played it growing up, you remember that the game challenges players to guide their wagon party across the great American West in 1848. To successfully traverse the continent, you must choose supplies, set your travel speed, cross rivers, trade with Native Americans, hunt for animals, survive disease and storms, and make wagon repairs.

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Welcome to Farmville--Please Have Your I.D. Ready

Happy Aquarium

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Have a Horrid Valentine's Day

What does Valentine’s Day make you think of? Boxes of chocolates? Bouquets of roses? Pledges of undying love? Sure, those are all part of the most romantic holiday on the calendar. On the other hand, from the 1840s into the early twentieth century, Valentine’s Day was also THE occasion to send insulting and downright nasty cards to your circle of acquaintances.

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I Have Pac-Man Fever Again

My fellow CHEGhead Marc Check began his last blog talking about some of the great Pac-Man artifacts in the NCHEG collection and how this character evokes in him a sense of early 80’s nostalgia. Like Marc, I too, caught Pac-Man Fever when it struck in epidemic proportion in 1981. My heart still holds a special place for Pac-Man and his family. Yes, family.

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Batter Up, Uncle Sam!

Strong National Museum of Play has many historical artifacts that help to tell the story of play in the wider context of American history. One of my favorite posters in the museum’s collection shows how baseball intersected with American history in the early twentieth century. Baseball was widely recognized as America’s national sport by the late 1800s, and it continued to grow in popularity in the early twentieth century. Two separate major leagues were in place in 1901, and by 1903 the World Series was established. Baseball was here to stay.

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A Gift of Scuba-Divers, Sunken Treasure, and Secret Ink

“You are a daring deep-sea diver holed up on Hardscrabble Island, a dying little seaport all but forgotten….” And so begins Infocom’s 1984 text-based adventure, Cutthroats, about a search for sunken treasure.

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Lincoln Logs: A Name that Fits

Sometimes powerful symbols sustain the longest lasting toys. Lincoln Logs, a favorite for nearly a century, is the best example.

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The Top: Start Here

Start with a top. It’s simple, cheap, fun, unbreakable, and memorable; its principles, too, serve as the basis for several other toys.

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Why Is a Football Football-Shaped?

This is a good question to which people give several answers.

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The Toy That Starts the Holiday Season

Even though many homes already display bright lights or pine wreaths and most stores are stocked to the gills with Christmas merchandise, some folks can’t quite begin the holiday season until they see the latest Hess toy truck.

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