If you’re one of the more than half-million visitors to The Strong museum each year, you may have spotted the gallery wall about the life of founder Margaret Woodbury Strong en route to the admissions desk (and later, when you mosey back over to the food court). The museum in its current state grew out of the original collections of dolls, dollhouses, and other playthings amassed and cherished by Margaret Woodbury Strong during her lifetime.
People at Play
Get out your library cards and alert your book club! As far as we’re concerned, National Toy Hall of Fame season never ends, making it a fine time for another edition of Toy Stories: Tales of the Games and Toys We Love. Last year, I recommended books about 11 Toy Hall of Fame inductees and their inventors.
In this age of sharing every idle thought online, younger generations might find it hard to believe that publicly documenting one’s own life wasn’t always the norm. The most ancient forms of memory were kept in the oral tradition, and the keepers of records were individuals entrusted with the task of memorizing details and transmitting them through recitation to others. As writing systems developed and literacy rose across the globe, the written record became the rule (and oftentimes, entire groups of people were left off the pages).
Fans of The Bachelorette and romance novels might be interested to know that The Coquette and her Suitors recently joined The Strong’s collections. This 1858 game features some of the most detailed design and lithography available at that time and undoubtedly drew its title from one of the most popular novels of that era, first published anonymously in 1797. The Coquette: or, The History of Eliza Wharton was still a best-seller some 50 years later and was not credited to an author until 1856, 16 years after novelist Hannah Webster Foster had died. Two years later, the Boston publisher and bookseller Brown, Taggard & Chase named a board game after the book’s protagonist, whose coquettish behavior led to her early demise. The book tells a sad story of a good girl whose dream of independence was overcome by society’s rules. But the board game paints her quite differently and the publisher probably only chose the game’s title for the mass recognition of the term “coquette.”
Plastic was invented in the late 19th century, but not until after World War II did advances in chemical technology make it malleable and affordable enough to meet the demands of toy manufacturers. The first plastic toys seemed crude—some toy companies combined plastic heads or hands with cloth or wooden bodies, while others made attempts at translating new concepts into tangible plastic toys. Soon plastic toys of all kinds—Mickey Mouse figures, moon men, ray guns, model kits, and Astro Boy products, among others—hit the market.