The National Museum of Play® at The Strong is home to hundreds of thousands of historical objects related to play, including the world’s most comprehensive collection of dolls, toys, and games. Thousands of artifacts are on view in museum exhibits and thousands more are viewable online, including examples of toys inducted into The Strong’s National Toy Hall of Fame. Whether on display or in organized storage, the collections of the National Museum of Play complement and provide context for those of The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games and Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play. Together this unprecedented assemblage of historical materials of play offers a unique interpretive and educational window into the critical role of play in human physical, social, and intellectual development and the ways in which play reflects cultural history.
For purposes of management and description, the collections of the National Museum of Play are organized into a variety of categories. The major ones are described below:
This expansive assemblage of nearly 15,000 items ranges from paper dolls to collector dolls. Included are rarities such as Thomas Edison’s Phonographic Doll (1890) and numerous Bru and Jumeau dolls; many other elegant examples of 19th-century French and German dolls; an extensive collection of Barbie dolls; and thousands of other popular and fashion dolls from the early 20th century to the present.
At 7,500 items and counting, the National Museum of Play’s game collections include board games, card games, dexterity puzzles, role-playing games, game prototypes, and more. The American board games constitute the largest diversified collection of such artifacts in a public institution in the United States. (See the International Center for the History of Electronic Games for a description of The Strong's holdings of video games and other electronic games and electronic-game-related materials.)
Currently numbering more than 68,000 artifacts, the National Museum of Play’s toy collections are recognized as one of the most comprehensive aggregations of such things for play anywhere. The contents range from alphabet blocks, construction sets, and teddy bears to airplanes, trains, mechanical banks, and more. Individually and collectively, they reflect the events, popular currents, and cultural values of the various times from which they sprang.
A significant number of toys in The Strong’s National Museum of Play are organized according to manufacturers because of the history of those particular companies and their association with particular types of toys. Included in this array are toys from Arcade, Fisher-Price, Louis Marx, Playskool, and Ty.
In addition to dolls, games, and toys, the collections of the National Museum of Play at The Strong include a broad range of other artifacts of play. Major categories include, among others, souvenirs and postcards, sheet music, objects based on popular and literary characters, and examples of home crafts and hobbies dating back to the 19th century.
On-site access to the National Museum of Play collections
On-site access to the full museum collection is available to researchers by appointment. Appointments may be made via an online form, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide a topic of research, indicate the materials desired, and any special needs.
To promote and advance play scholarship, The Strong invites academic professionals, independent scholars, museum scholars, and advanced graduate students at the Masters or PhD level to apply for The Strong Research Fellowships. Fellowships provide financial support for scholarly play research conducted on site at The Strong in Rochester, New York, for periods of study ranging from one week to three months.