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.

A Precursor to Wegmans?

Mary Valentine
The Strong Museum Trustee

Handmade toy produce truck, 2019. Courtesy of the author. When I was a kid I loved to play "grocery." Every Saturday morning, I would hear Mr. Maroni's old produce truck groan as it came up the hill, turned the corner and slowly limped down my street. I would throw open the screen door on the porch, scamper past the glider, and fly down the steps out front to be there just as the big, uncovered wood-sided truck ground to a stop directly in front of my house on Lafayette Avenue.

My mother would follow with her change purse in hand. From the crates of fiery red beefsteak tomatoes and the orange-fleshed yams, to the bright yellow bananas, and the purple eggplant, I got to gently place the chosen pieces into the faded and dented aluminum scale in the rear of the truck, and watch the arrow spin around and stop at the weight of each selected fruit or vegetable. Then Mr. Maroni placed my chosen produce into small paper bags and handed them to me with a smile.

Supermarket set, 1960s, gift of Lisa S. Hartman. The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Then came my favorite part of the game. My mom handed me her change purse, and I got to sift through the shiny coins and choose the right amount to pay for my treasures. I counted out each nickel, dime, and quarter and proudly handed them to Mr. Maroni. Sometimes I would even get change back!

I discovered at an early age that learning was fun, and a big part of that was my mother encouraging me to choose the vegetables and fruit from that old wooden truck. How to pay for my purchases taught me not just arithmetic, but the value of each precious coin and spending it wisely. It also gave me a feeling of accomplishment, independence, and made my mother proud.

The ability to try to make good choices and learn the value of money are traits I have tried to foster in my life. Every time I shop for produce, I still remember my mother telling me to pick out a shiny onion or shake a musk melon to hear the seeds inside that would tell me it was ripe. I use a credit card now to pay for my purchases, instead of counting out change. But I still smile as I approach the produce aisle and recall fond memories of the "grocery game." I think I'll thump a watermelon on my next trip to the store.

The Ball: Right Back at You, Jon Stewart

When the National Toy Hall of Fame inducts new toys each year, people notice—tens of millions notice.

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Duncan Yo-Yo: Strings Attached

There’s something liberating about the

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Hurray for Inventors!

Toy and game inventors deserve their time in the spotlight, according to the annual TAGIE (Toy and Game Inventors Expo) Awards. Bestselling books and hit songs earn authors and singers publicity as well as financial rewards. But create a million-selling toy or game and practically no one knows your name. The TAGIE Awards honor the people behind the playthings, celebrating their creations and the fun they’ve brought to our lives.

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Finnish Question Sends NCHEG Deep Into Archives

A recent e-mail inquiry from a researcher in Finland gave me a great opportunity to mine our vast trade catalog collection for information about the prehistory of electronic games. The researcher wanted to know more about the origins of pre-computer electric quiz games of the 1940s and 1950s.

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‘Twas the night before Christmas

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Fly You to the Moon?

During the 1950s, space adventures loomed large in American pop culture as authors, comic book illustrators, and movie directors entertained the public with a steady diet of space epics. Bizarre aliens, laser beams, and spacecraft of all shapes and sizes mesmerized children and adults alike.

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My Guitar Hero Problem

It’s not that I play too much, quite the contrary. The Guitar Hero game I’ve had at home since last Christmas is still wrapped in cellophane. I just can’t bring myself to buy the guitar controller required to play the game.

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Sesame Street at Forty and Still Counting

It’s hard to believe that Sesame Street is turning forty. But then again, it’s also hard to believe that Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger, another 60’s figure, is old enough to qualify for a British “old age” pension.

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Best in Class: Game Boy, Big Wheel, and the Ball

The excitement builds around the museum every autumn as we lead up to the induction of new toys into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

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New Interest in Old Text-Based Adventures

“You are in an open field west of a big white house with a boarded front door." "There is a small mailbox here.”

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