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.

Out of the Wild Blue Yonder

For curators at the museum, some days feel just like Christmas.One day—out of the blue, appropriately—I received a phone call about a local collector with an extensive collection of toy airplanes and related playthings.

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Comic Book Superheroes

Just how popular are comic book superheroes today?

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Jenga. Jenga? Jenga!

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The Stick Stands Out

Excitement was building at the start of November as we prepared to induct three new toys-the baby doll, the skateboard, and the stick-into the National Toy Hall of Fame. I'd studied up on the toys' histories, gathered my anecdotes, and felt prepared to explain to anyone who asked the all compelling reasons why they should join the 38 classic toys already in the Hall.

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Old Play=New Play?

Ever since they started appearing in kids’ lives in the 1970s, video games have caused controversy. Many grownups fret that video games keep kids glued to the screen instead of setting up a board game, heading outside to play ball, or engaging in other forms of more traditional play (click here for a great demonstration of this view).It’s true that children are spending more time playing video games.

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Calling all Barbie Play Sets!

Feeling nostalgic for your old Barbie dolls?

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The Perfect Holiday Gift

Growing up in the late '70s and early '80s, "visions of sugarplums" never danced in my head and my dream of the perfect holiday gift never included a Red Ryder BB gun. What I really wanted to find under the tree was the latest video game.

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Playing with Politics

Now that Election Day has come and gone, it's time to think about the fun side of politics. Yes, there is a fun side to politics, at least when you look at the dozens of politically-themed games in the collection here at Strong National Museum of Play. Throughout American history, games of all sorts have often reflected current politics and events on the national scene.

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The Odd Ogg Blog

What's that scuttling across the floor? A horseshoe crab? A Roomba vacuum cleaner?

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Trick-or-Treat

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