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.
Play Stuff Blog
Historians debate the origins of paper airplanes. Early attempts at constructing flying machines fascinated children and adults alike. The success of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 fostered renewed hope of powered flight and no doubt contributed to the purported invention, in 1909, of the paper airplane. More than 100 years later, on November 9, 2017, The Strong announced that the paper airplane, along with the game Clue and the Wiffle Ball, had joined the elite of the toy world in the National Toy Hall of Fame.
Play with paper airplanes is far from formulaic and constrained. Where some toys require financial investment, paper airplanes start with a simple sheet of paper, coupled with dexterity, to produce a toy with infinite aeronautical possibilities. The principles that make an airplane fly are the same that govern paper versions. Jack Northrup, co-founder of Lockheed Corporation, built flying paper models in 1930 to test certain flight designs. Paper’s high strength and density make it similar, scale-wise, to the materials used to construct airplanes. Paper airplanes clearly meet the criteria for induction into the hall of fame—longevity, icon-status, and promoting discovery and innovation. But the induction of the paper airplane into the hall of fame caused me anxiety for one simple reason: I can’t fold a paper airplane.
Even after I studied the detailed instructions provided in The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes and I watched enthusiastic paper folders present instructional online videos, I failed to fold a paper airplane worthy of flight or display. I became acutely aware of my deficiency in what Dr. Howard Gardner, former professor of education at Harvard University, refers to as the Logical-Mathematical Intelligence and Spatial Intelligence. I spent hours practicing folds and scrutinizing beautiful pieces of origami. I jumped on the bandwagon with John Smith, a retired statistician and founder of the British Origami Society, who advocated for “Forgiving Folds” or paper models that can withstand inaccurate folds.
It took some convincing, but I have started to consider the paper airplane from a different perspective. I love one of the components that make-up play with a paper airplane—design. Though the aerodynamics of paper airplanes remain the same, people play with the possibilities of shape, color, and weight. Pop artist Peter Max created an entire book of psychedelic paper airplane templates in the 1970s. Max invited readers to get their “message across with a paper airplane in cosmic colors.” Artist S. Astrid Bin used one 500-sheet ream of paper to create 1,000 paper airplanes for his installation, One Thousand Means of Escape. Bin noted that he loves to throw paper airplanes and to imagine “that they fly away somewhere else.” Play with paper airplanes also taught me an important lesson about the value of varied intelligences.
The case displaying the paper airplane in The Strong’s Toy Halls of Fame exhibit illustrates two of Dr. Howard Gardner’s intelligences—Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (facility in using one’s hands to produce or transform things) and Interpersonal Intelligence (the ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people). My museum colleagues with inclinations to a paper folding hobby came to my rescue and folded beautiful, creative paper airplanes for the display. And we had fun throwing a few paper airplanes around the office, too.
“Victoria? I have to tell you something… And you’re definitely going to roll your eyes.”
I stare at my stepson and brace myself for whatever words are about to follow. We are sitting around the table at my in-laws home eating spaghetti and he’s looking a bit worn out from the NHL hockey game he attended earlier that day in Montreal. I set my fork down in anticipation.
“Hit it,” I prompt.
Although I sometimes roll my eyes at the new commemorative “holidays” that get added to the calendar, I’m actually delighted to see that November 4, 2017 has been declared the first annual National Easy-Bake Oven Day. I can’t promise that I’ll be sending greeting cards to my friends and family to honor the occasion, but it’s good to know that one of the classic toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame is drawing renewed attention—naturally by way of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
What makes a game classic? Part of the answer is longevity. Most people consider chess classic; we’ve played it for centuries. What about playing cards? Woodblock-printed cards appeared during China’s Tang dynasty (618–907), while written rules for card games were first seen in15th-century Europe. Another characteristic of classic games is continued popularity. Games such as Monopoly in the 1930s and Scrabble during the 1950s broke sales records at first. But they continued to sell in the years that followed and do so today.
I was a visiting Research Fellow at The Strong museum in July 2017. While at the museum, I researched the history of the toy industry, focusing on the ways in which the main trade journal, Playthings, represented the struggles of different companies to capitalize on the different opportunities the market offered to them. In doing so, I traced the links between intellectual property law and the making of the U.S. toy industry in the early 20th century.
Reading reports about some retail store closings, it’s hard to ignore that many of us often prefer shopping online with millions of products at our fingertips to navigating a shopping cart through the aisles of our local retailers.
Labor Day weekend will be filled with the lighting of grills, the balancing of over-filled paper plates on knees, and the splashing of feet in lakes and pools. It’s prime picnic time in America! People have been picnicking for more than 500 years. The French term “pique-nique” first appeared in print in 1694, referring to an indoor, potluck-type affair. Outdoor dining most likely has its roots medieval hunting feasts as documented in paintings and tapestries from the period, and the French term was adopted and adapted by the British to refer these outdoor affairs.
“Are you a child or a teetotum?” a creature asks Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871). The bewildered Alice can’t think what to say in reply. Spun from one mad adventure to another, she might well resemble the iconic “teetotum,” or spinning top, that was used in 19th-century board games.