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.

Pin the What?!

The Donkey Party Game, 1901. The Strong, Rochester, New York.What sort of party games stick in your memory? No, not the ones from your teen years which involved getting your first kiss. I’m thinking of the classic party games for children’s birthday parties. And one of the top party games for that demographic—at least in my childhood—would have to be Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The earliest donkey pinning games in The Strong museum’s collection come from the 1890s, which aligns with accounts from the internet (because you can always trust that, right?) saying that the game originated from rural areas in Wisconsin in the 1880s, when it seems to have just been called the Donkey Party Game.

Pin the Tail on the Donkey, about 1965. Gift of Shawn Utz in memory of Otto and Joan Utz, The Strong, Rochester, New York. The box cover of a Parker Brothers version of the game from about 1965 makes clear the true appeal of all the pin-the-tail games—they provided a wonderful opportunity to humiliate your friends, siblings, or classmates—whoever was there at your birthday party. The true hilarity came from blindfolding that willing victim, spinning them around, and then sending them off toward the donkey target on the wall, eagerly anticipating that the tail would wind up on the poor animal’s head, floating in the background—any place except where it belongs.

Grand Old Party game, about 1890. The Strong, Rochester, New York. What you might not guess unless you’re a curator at the biggest toy museum in the world is that donkeys are far from the only subject matter for pin-the-tail games. If you’re of a political bent—because what child isn’t—you could opt for a game that involved an elephant, the symbol of the Republican Party, in the Grand Old Party game. In comparison to its overall size, an elephant’s tail is pretty negligible, so the pinning items for the game consist of bags of peanuts. Which, in turn, has led The Strong’s curators to jokingly refer to this version as Pin the Peanuts on the Pachyderm.

Probably more to the true taste of kids is Our Cinderella Party. The illustration on linen shows a pensive Cinderella resting from her labors by the fireplace with her broom and dustpan for sweeping up the ashes. She’s much humbler looking to my eye than the standard glamorous Disney princess Cinderella, even before she gets spruced up to go to the ball. However, the best part for me is that this Cinderella is wearing what seem to be a very early version of UGG boots, although the challenge is to place one of the golden pumps on her bare foot.

The Tandem Party, 1897. The Strong, Rochester, New York. Equally interesting is The Tandem Party from 1897, the time of a nationwide craze for bicycling. Before this period, only a few daring cyclists were willing to teeter down rutted pavements on treacherous high-wheeled bicycles with no brakes. With the advent of what was called the safety bicycle—with two wheels of the same size, more comfortable seats, and useful brakes—bicycling became an outdoor activity for everyone, boys and girls, women and men. Bicycling could even be a social or romantic activity with a tandem bicycle and the right bicycling partner. The background for The Tandem Party shows a mustachioed chap on the back seat of a tandem. He’s obviously looking for the right bicycling mate and the players aspire to get a lovely bicycling lady with a practical knee-length skirt (so it wouldn’t get caught in the chain or the wheels) onto the front seat of the bicycle.

Cowboy Party Game, about 1955. The Strong, Rochester, New York. Last but certainly not least is the Cowboy Party Game. American popular culture in the mid-1950s seemed to be crazy for all things Western. The television series Gunsmoke featuring Sheriff Matt Dillon made its debut in 1955 and would go on to run for two decades. If you liked your cowboys singing, the fifth most successful movie at the box office that year was Oklahoma! And the Cowboy Party Game let kids try their aim at placing a pistol in the hand of a smiling cowpoke in a blazing red vest.

I hope that maybe I’ve given you inspiration to break out of that donkey rut in your party games. Maybe you even want to create a pin-the-tail game of your own that suits your own interests. Why not grab your markers and design a totally fresh variation? And, when you do, snap a picture or two so you can share your creation with The Strong’s Play Stories project, dedicated to gathering, preserving, and sharing stories, images, and videos about play in 2020. Because when a game’s a classic, it always deserves a fresh spin for our own time.

Sturdily Built: The Playful Longevity of the Cardboard Box.

Read more >

Examining 21st Century STEM–related Toys and their Impact on Girls

If someone asked you to name the types of toys girls played with, what would you say? Perhaps you would shout out “Barbies” or “baby dolls” or “pink cuddly toys,” right? Those types of toys have long been associated with girls, while trucks, cars, and blue toys made from hard plastic have been associated with boys. Meanwhile, the United States is struggling to understand why girls are not attracted to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Read more >

Little Boxes: Plasticville Plays at Post-World War II Suburbia

Read more >

An Expansion Pack for A History of Video Games in 64 Objects

In our new book from the World Video Game Hall of Fame, A History of Video Games in 64 Objects, we faced a challenge. Which objects should we include? The Strong museum, home of the World Video Game Hall of Fame, has hundreds of thousands of objects related to video games in its collections, and so we needed to include just the right mix of artifacts that were important, helped tell the broader history of video games, and would engage readers.

Read more >

The First Mobile Game Goes Viral: Pigs in Clover

Read more >

A Museum is Born

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.

Read more >

More Stories from the National Toy Hall of Fame

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.

Read more >

Oral Histories in the Archives

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).

Read more >

Velocipede Ventures

Read more >

Sidewalk Surfing: The Gnarly History of Skateboarding Part I (1940s to 1972)

Read more >

Pages