Currently numbering more than 75,000 artifacts, The Strong’s toy collections are recognized as one of the most comprehensive aggregations of toys worldwide. 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, trends, and cultural values of the various times from which they sprang. Those noted below represent some of the most popular and historically significant groupings in the collections.
Almost as soon as the Wright Brothers first flew their aircraft, toy manufacturers began to fuel kids’ fascination with things that fly. The simplest aviation toys replicated the earliest planes. Other toys, sold as kits, encouraged kids to build and fly their own models. Others documented advances in military and commercial aviation or celebrated particular events, such as Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic and stunt pilots’ barnstorming acts of the 1920s. Manufacturers such as Ferdinand Strauss, Louis Marx, Ideal, Hubley, Buddy L, Metalcraft, Wyandotte, Tootsietoy, and Renwal in the United States and international firms such as Meccano Dinky, Playcraft Toys, Joutra, Cardini, Ernst Planck, GAMA, and Bandai all produced aviation toys. All are represented in the museum’s collection of more than 600 examples.
Alphabet and Building Blocks
For generations, alphabet and building blocks have ranked among toddlers’ first toys. Parents and child experts alike favor them because playing with the toys helps children develop hand-eye coordination, creativity, and the ability to experiment. In the late 19th century, toy makers devised ways of sawing blocks in quantity and embossing the wood with letters, numbers, and figures in low relief. The Progressives and educators of the early 20th century promoted alphabet and building blocks as toys that gave toddlers nicely-sized objects to manipulate. Alphabet blocks also placed the fundamental letters for reading before children early in their development. The more than 250 block sets in the museum’s collection extend from embossed wooden sets from the 19th century through current molded plastic blocks in primary colors.
See also Alphabet Blocks, inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2003, and “Charles M. Crandall Toys—Vintage Playthings, Modern Play.”
In the last quarter of the 19th century, companies such as Arcade, Dent, Hubley, Kenton, and Carpenter became known for their horse-drawn fire wagons, circus wagons, and grocer and milk wagons. Later, when automobiles appeared on America’s highways, companies produced toy Ford Model Ts, Buick coupes, and DeSoto sedans in faithful detail. Beyond the more than 100 items in the Arcade Collection, the museum has more than 200 additional fire trucks, circus wagons, carriages, motorcycles, and other cast-iron vehicles dating from the late 1900s to the start of World War II.
Playing with building sets requires imagination, planning, critical thinking, and strategizing—all skills that kids rely on when they enter the adult world. Since the 19th century, toy makers have tried to produce a better construction set. Building blocks—which occupy their own collections category at The Strong—have been joined by such 20th-century classics as Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. The museum holds more than 1,200 construction sets that run the gamut from 1920s Erector Sets to the latest LEGO products. Together they demonstrate the ways technology, materials, and marketing have shaped popular building toys over more than a century.
Dollhouses, Furnishings, and Miniature Rooms
For more than 500 years, dollhouses—handcrafted for children in the 1600s and 1700s, mass-produced in the 1800s and 1900s, or finely crafted by adult hobbyists in the 2000s—have been important objects for self-expression and fantasy. As toys, dollhouses help children learn about interior design and household management and encourage them to use their imaginations to create and share stories. The more than 300 dollhouses in the museum’s collection range from elaborate hand-crafted Victorian mansions to printed metal ranch-style houses and include everything from toddler-targeted plastic dollhouses to hobbyists’ models. The museum also holds more than 200 miniature rooms and more than 20,000 examples of dollhouse furnishings.
See also “The Dollhouse: A 2011 National Toy Hall of Fame Inductee," "Let There Be Light," "Thinking Outside of the Toy Chest: Where Playthings Live," and "Thinking Outside of the Toy Chest: Where Playthings Live."
More than 1,800 mechanical toys in the museum’s collection demonstrate the many ways they have walked, waddled, rolled, and hopped into play history, from 19th-century clockwork metal toys to plastic windups given away at fast food restaurants today. The collection also features an array of elaborate 19th-century automata.
Star Wars Action Figures
Between 1978 and 2013, fans of the original Star Wars and its sequels purchased more than 300 million 3.75-inch-high plastic action figures based on the movies. Because of the action figures’ long-lasting popularity, The Strong inducted them into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2012. This collection includes 2,700 items, which represent 85 percent of the approximately 2,300 distinct figures made in the first 35 years of the toy line. Fon Davis, a former Industrial Light and Magic model maker who worked on the earliest Star Wars movies, assembled the core of this encyclopedic collection.
Steam powered the first mechanical toy trains and electric versions made model layouts common in family playrooms. Joshua Lionel Cohen offered his first train sets in the early 1900s, and by the middle of the 20th century, Lionel trains dominated the market. By the 1930s, adult modelers founded the National Model Railroad Association with local chapters in every state. By the end of the 20th century, hobbyists numbered about 500,000 throughout the United States. The museum owns more than 1,000 pieces of Lionel rolling stock and thousands more related items for creating the elaborate layouts that kids and adults find so engaging. The collection also represents American Flyer and other brands of trains.
See also Lionel Trains, inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006.
Yo-yos have been part of American childhood since the 1920s and especially since the toy’s revival by Duncan in the 1960s. Not just for kids, the yo-yo is the centerpiece of dozens of local, national, and international contests for yo-yo tricksters of all ages. The museum’s collection includes nearly 1,900 examples of the popular toy.
Toy Company Collections
A significant number of toys in The Strong’s collections are organized according to manufacturers because of the history of those companies and their association with types of toys. All the types of toys represented here are also represented in other ways under the heading Toy Collections.
Since the 1930s, when the company began making toys decorated with eye-catching lithograph images of charming bears, ducks, donkeys, and other animals, Fisher-Price toys have been among the earliest playthings received by many American babies and toddlers. After Mattel purchased the company in 1993, its toys reached markets around the world. The museum holds more than 500 Fisher-Price products, including push toys, pull toys, play sets, and Little People sets.
See also “I’d Like to Thank All the Little People.”
GUND, Inc. Collection of Toys, 1920s–1970s
The GUND Manufacturing Company, founded in 1898 by Adolph Gund, supplied the nation’s growing market for soft toys including teddy bears, mechanical toys, plush animals, cloth dolls, and puppets. GUND’s success benefited from several innovations in technology and marketing. In 1915 it patented a method of mechanizing its plush toys to make them move and talk. GUND also specialized in supplying plush toys for gift-giving holidays like Christmas and Easter. In 1947, GUND partnered with Walt Disney Productions to offer plush figures of such hugely popular characters as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Dumbo, Snow White, and Mary Poppins. Today, GUND is part of the Spin Master toy conglomerate. The GUND Collection includes more than 450 plush figures and soft toys from the 1920s through the 1970s.
View the GUND, Inc. Records finding aid.
Louis Marx Collection
In 1955, Time magazine named Louis Marx & Company “the Toy King.” Between 1921 and 1972, the firm produced toys ranging from dolls, dollhouses, trains, cars, and vehicles to toy soldiers, toy guns, action figures, and an immense variety of mechanical tin toys. Yearly alterations kept Marx toys in production for decades and thus held down per unit costs. Toys based on popular television and movie characters boosted the company in the 1950s and 1960s. Among the more than 550 Marx toys in the museum’s collection are popular stand-outs like Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots, the Big Wheel tricycle, and Honeymoon Express wind-up toys.
This collection of toddler-oriented Playskool toys includes more than 200 artifacts. Playskool originated in the 1920s with two teachers designing toys for classrooms. In the 1960s, the company increased sales in part through a “Learning While Playing” slogan. Now owned by Hasbro, the company is a leading manufacturer of toys for infants and children. Best known for simple wooden toys like blocks and pegboards, Playskool also makes preschool books and interactive computer games as well as versions of such iconic toys as Play-Doh and Mr. Potato Head.
Ty Beanie Baby Collection
Ty, maker of numerous types of plush toys, produced its first nine Beanie Babies in 1993, and almost instantly the moderately priced, diminutively sized plush animals became best sellers in specialty shops throughout the United States. Tiny PVC beads made Beanies flexible and poseable, low prices made them affordable, and creative marketing—including limited production and avoidance of large-chain retailers—made them desirable. By 2010, the company had produced nearly 1,800 different Beanie Babies. The museum’s collection includes nearly 800 examples, most of which are gifts from Ty. Also included are miniature versions offered as Happy Meal toys at McDonald’s.
This expansive assemblage of more than 16,000 items ranges from paper dolls to collector dolls. It includes rarities such as Thomas Edison’s Talking Doll (1890) and numerous Bru and Jumeau dolls; many other elegant examples of 19th-century French and German dolls; and thousands of other popular and fashion dolls from the early 20th century to the present.
Since her introduction by Mattel in 1959, Barbie has dominated the toy world like no other doll. Her design, marketing, and overall popularity, together with criticism from detractors, reveal much about American attitudes and values over the last half century. The museum’s Barbie collection includes nearly 2,700 dolls and related items, from clothing and dollhouses to vehicles and pets. Included are five examples of Bild Lilli (the German doll that inspired the Barbie concept and design), the No. 1 and No. 2 Barbie (which launched the Barbie phenomenon), TeenTalk Barbie (infamous for her “math class is tough” line), and Totally Hair Barbie (the best-selling Barbie ever).
See also "Barbie, You’re Beautiful,” “The Best Toys Ever,” "Venturing into Barbie's World," and "Finding Race and Play at The Strong" blogs and Barbie, inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Dolls after 1950
According to some historians, the mid-20th century marked the golden age of American doll making. During World War II, manufacturers developed technologies for working with plastic, and after the war, no fewer than 84 American companies offered dolls of easily molded hard plastic and vinyl for girls to dress, walk, feed, and bathe. Other dolls had hair to comb, curl, and color. Television brought advertising for them directly to children. Excluding Barbie dolls, the museum holds more than 3,200 post-1950 dolls, including extensive examples of Vogue, Bratz, Madame Alexander, and Nancy Ann dolls, plus modern classics such as Cabbage Patch Kids and American Girl dolls.
Dolls before 1950
Dolls became popular playthings for children in the early 1800s when German toymakers first offered mass-produced dolls of papier-mâché. Mothers and girls also fashioned rag dolls from inexpensive factory-produced cloth. After that, dolls reflected rapid changes in manufacturing technology, materials, and consumer tastes. The more than 7,000 pre-1950 dolls in the museum’s collection feature elegant examples by French and German makers from the 19th century, cuddly cloth dolls, and popular American dolls from the 1930s and 1940s, such as Shirley Temple, Ginny, Betsy Wetsy, and Toni and Terri Lee dolls. Also included are many rarities such as Thomas Edison’s Talking Doll, an A. Marque doll, and numerous fine examples of Bru and Jumeau dolls.
Paper dolls first appeared in France and England in the 18th century. Some early ones depicted moral virtue; some versions illustrated actors and actresses for use on accompanying paper stages. Other paper dolls encouraged children to dress them in printed outfits or to fashion clothes from bits of fabric, lace, magazine pages, and tissue paper. In the 19th century, newspapers and magazines hoped to increase circulation by including pages of paper dolls to cut out and dress. In the 20th century, American magazines offered monthly installments in story series like “Dolly Dingle,” “Peggy Pryde,” “Bonnie and Betty Bobbs,” “The Kewpies,” and “Polly and Peter Perkins.” “Betsy McCall” appeared in McCall’s magazine into the 1990s. The almost 4,000 paper dolls in the museum’s collection include early handmade dolls, paper dolls from newspapers and magazines, advertising paper dolls, and published paper dolls sold in toy departments and bookstores.
At more than 15,000 items, The Strong’s game collections include board games, card games, dexterity puzzles, role-playing games, game prototypes, and more. This category does not include video games and other electronic games, which are organized and treated separately. The game collections described here represent some of the most popular and historically significant groupings.
Between 1915 and 1945, the Rochester, New York, firm All-Fair—known variously over time as Alderman-Fairchild, Fairco, and E. E. Fairchild—ranked only behind Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley as an important American game manufacturer. The museum holds about 350 examples of the company’s games, toys, and puzzles, representing the complete scope of the company’s game and toy products. Examples include some of the firm’s earliest efforts in high-quality games as well as classic later versions in bright, Art Deco designs.
The Strong’s American board game collection constitutes the largest diversified collection of such artifacts in a public institution in the United States. From timeless classics such as chess and checkers to the latest party and trivia games, the more than 4,600 board games in the museum’s collection demonstrate both the range and continuity of this important form. Highlights in the collection include examples of early games such as the Mansion of Happiness (1843) and the Jolly Game of Goose (1851), as well as the earliest known version of the Monopoly game (1933), handmade by Charles Darrow, who produced the first commercial version of the game. The collection also includes a game board for The Landlord’s Game (1904), Elizabeth Magie Phillips’ creation that was the basis for Monopoly. The collection is especially strong in late 19th- and early 20th-century games with boxes and boards decorated in beautiful chromolithography. Similar to games throughout American history, these reflect the trends and currents of the popular culture that surrounded them.
Card Games and Playing Cards
The museum holds more than 2,400 proprietary game decks and standard 52-card decks. Unlike standard card decks, proprietary game decks are concerned with one type of play. Over the years proprietary card games have provided a less expensive alternative to board games while representing many of the same types of themes, such as popular pastimes, current events, children’s books, and adult literature, including the popular game of Authors. The museum’s collection ranges from childhood classics such as Fish and Authors and branded games like Flinch and Uno, to late-19th- and early-20th-century proprietary games with colorful images printed on their boxes.
See also "Playing Cards: A 2010 National Toy Hall of Fame Inductee” and "Game Night!"
McLoughlin Brothers Collection
McLoughlin Brothers made games and other playthings from 1828 to 1920. The museum’s collection of more than 750 items consist chiefly of board and card games, but also includes paper dolls, puzzles, and children’s books. Most of the items date from the late 19th century or early 20th century and feature vivid color illustrations created through chromolithography.
Milton Bradley Collection
Milton Bradley set up his first color lithography shop in 1860 in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1860, and is often credited with launching the board game industry in the United States. The museum holds more than 1,100 examples of products manufactured by his company. Among these are several examples, from different periods, of his best-selling game, The Checkered Game of Life, and of his early teaching products, which he aimed at the kindergarten movement in the second half of the 19th century. Other examples of puzzles and games carry the collection through the present and include many mid-20th century examples with direct ties to popular culture trends.
Parker Brothers Collection
In 1883, George S. Parker founded Parker Brothers—Charles joined the firm in 1888 and Edward in 1898—in Salem, Massachusetts. The firm specialized in games that offered simple fun, rather than emphasizing morals and values. The museum’s collection includes more than 1,000 examples of Parker Brothers’ financial games (most notably, Monopoly), fortune telling games, racing games, and nonsense games, and ranges from the popular 1906 card game Rook to modern classics such as Clue, Risk, and Sorry!, as well as jigsaw puzzles.
See also “Tea or Monopoly with Mussolini?”
The museum holds more than 4,900 examples of role-playing games, a genre whose popularity peaked during the 1980s. Role-playing games are important for their contribution to video games and the many role-playing options now common in that medium. This collection covers a highly representative sample of all major manufacturers and types and is particularly strong in works by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, founders of TSR. These men are considered pivotal in the development of role-playing games, and their firm’s products are among the best known. The collection includes important examples of those as well as special games made available only at conferences. Examples range from the earliest beginnings of the form, in the mid-1970s, to the present.
Ron Dubren Collection
The more than 350 games, toys, and prototypes in this collection document the 30-year career of game inventor and artist Ron Dubren, who is particularly well-known as the co-creator—with Greg Hyman—of Tickle Me Elmo. In addition to many versions of Elmo, the collection includes a wide range of other toys and games, from Dubren’s own Chinese Chess to licensed character games such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The collection also sheds light toy and game industry design and production processes.
Sid Sackson Prototypes Collection
This collection consists of 330 three-dimensional prototypes of games invented by Sid Sackson, whose 1969 book A Gamut of Games remains an industry classic. Sackson also wrote a column for Strategy and Tactics magazine in the mid-1970s, and his life and works are still revered by serious gamers and game designers around the world. Acquire, Sleuth, and Take-Five stand among his best-known games. His abstract strategy board game Focus, which first appeared in the early 1960s, received the prestigious German Spiel des Jahres game design award in 1981.
See also “The Pre-Game Show: it Starts with a Prototype” and the Sid Sackson Papers housed in The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, which include his diaries plus game descriptions and rules, writings, correspondence, and other materials that document his career.
In addition to historical objects and other materials about toys, dolls, and games, The Strong’s holdings 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.
Berenstain Bears Collection
Since the 1960s, Stan and Jan Berenstain’s popular children’s book series, The Berenstain Bears, has sold millions of copies and taught kids numerous lessons about family and everyday life. With more than 300 titles in print, the series stands as one of the most successful in the history of children’s publishing. The Berenstain Bears have also starred in three animated television series, five NBC holiday specials, and several examples of edutainment software. Thanks to a generous donation from the Berenstain family, the more than 450 Berenstain Bears objects in the museum’s collection represent the full range of licensed Bears products through the years.
The Jim Henson Collection, 1971–2000
As an inductee to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame, Jim Henson not only revolutionized televised puppetry, he also created a cast of characters that continue to touch the lives of children and adults around the world through media and products. The more than 600 items in this collection provide a representative sample of Henson play-related consumer products covering five decades. Sesame Street Muppet characters dominate the products, but the collection also includes examples of licensed products from other Henson film and television productions such as Dinosaurs, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The Muppet Show.
Anne Heuer Lewis Tinker Toy Collection, 1924–Present
Tinkertoys, the iconic construction set made of wooden spools and dowels, first appeared in stores in 1914. The Anne Heuer Lewis collection of Tinker Toy products includes about 110 examples of these construction sets (an inductee to the National Toy Hall of Fame) that document variations in packaging, size, and contents from the 1920s to the present, as well as 120 other toys made between 1914 and the 1940s by The Toy Tinkers of Evanston, Illinois. These represent craft sets, toys made of wooden beads, games, play sets, pull toys, and other playthings. Paper materials in the collection consist of advertisements, brochures, and catalogues, gift tags, and sheet music. The collection also includes toys made by subsequent owners using the Tinkertoy brand.
View the Anne H. Lewis Tinker Toy Collection finding aid.
Iris F. Hollander November Statue of Liberty Collection
Collecting is a significant form of play. Iris November began collecting Statue of Liberty items in 1985 at a fundraising auction. Recalling that she was a first generation American on her mother’s side led her to decide to “have a little collection.” That, in turn, led her to found the Statue of Liberty Collectors Club in 1991 and create this collection of 1,650 Statue of Liberty souvenirs and related products, which she donated to the museum in memory of her mother Celeste Coriene Flaxman. The collection consists chiefly of objects from the early 20th century to the present.
See also “Saluting the Statue of Liberty.”
Philip E. Orbanes Collection
This collection of more than 700 items includes the world’s most comprehensive collection of classic Monopoly games. Philip E. Orbanes, who assembled the collection, led research and development teams at Parker Brothers for more than a decade and is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the company and on Monopoly. The collection includes every mass-produced edition of Monopoly from the first home-produced versions by Charles Darrow to special Millennia editions from 2000. Also included are handmade games such as the famous Roy Stryker oilcloth Landlord’s Game, every Parker-made Mah-Jongg set and other famous first editions such as Parker’s 1949 Clue, plus game and toy prototypes from Orbanes’s career at Ideal and his own company, Gamescience.
See also the Philip E. Orbanes Papers in The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play.
Garth Parker Collection, 1978–2012
Garth Parker worked for more than 30 years as a toy designer, product developer, and a producer of customized merchandise. The Garth Parker Collection includes toys Parker designed for quick-serve restaurants such as Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Taco Bell as well as other corporations including 20th Century Fox, Aladdin Industries, Colgate-Palmolive, Dairy Queen, and Ralston-Purina. The toys Parker designed involved licensed properties from Disney, Marvel, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros., major sports leagues, and popular characters from television. The collection of more than 250 Parker-designed toys and products accompanies his “toy library,” or toys he acquired to inspire the products he created. In addition, Parker’s collection includes an archive of concept drawings and supporting materials now housed in The Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives at The Strong.
Raggedy Ann and Andy Collection
Comic strip artist and graphic illustrator Johnny B. Gruelle created Raggedy Ann Stories for the P. F. Volland publishing company in 1918. Three years later Gruelle followed with Raggedy Andy Stories, and soon Volland issued the dolls as tie-ins to its books. The dolls and books alike have remained popular and in production ever since. The Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum of Arcola, Illinois, donated many of the more than 1,400 Raggedy Ann and Andy items in this collection. It illustrates some of the products—furniture, clothing, Halloween costumes, games, records, food products, and holiday decorations—that have employed Raggedy Ann and Andy’s images for a century.
See also “Raggedy Ann Makes Her Move”; Raggedy Ann and Andy, inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2002 and 2007; and the Gruelle Family Collection in The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play.
Sheet Music Collection
Sheet music preceded the Victrola and radio in making popular music accessible to the public. Before these innovations, the piano and sheet music brought the latest popular songs to families, groups of friends, and even whole neighborhoods. The museum holds nearly 3,000 pieces of sheet music ranging from simply designed mid-19th century pieces to ones bearing fancy chromolithographed covers of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The collection is highly representative of American popular culture up to the present. Modern examples range from Disney movie themes to contemporary rock and roll.
Harvey Simmons Greyhound Bus Collection, 1920s–1990s
Harvey Simmons collected toy models of Greyhound buses and company memorabilia for several decades. His collection includes about 200 bus models dating from the 1930s to the present and contains toy buses from major American toy manufacturers such as Louis Marx & Company, Arcade, Tootsietoy, Buddy L, Keystone, and Mattel. Models from international companies include Corgi Junior, Matchbox, Cragstan, and LineMar. The Simmons collection also includes models of the vehicles that Greyhound used to transport visitors around World’s Fairs in 1933 and in 1964. The collection also numbers about 100 items related to Greyhound that are not toys. These artifacts include a driver’s uniform and personal gear such as buttons and pins, matchbooks, maps, postcards, and advertisements from Saturday Evening Post, Life, and Look.
See also "Go Greyhound!"
Anne D. Williams Jigsaw Puzzle Collection, 1766–2014
As the nation’s foremost expert on jigsaw puzzles and jigsaw history, collector Anne Williams authored the definitive books on the subject and amassed examples of puzzles produced by virtually every American manufacturer and many from other countries. The collection includes more than 8,000 puzzles, including one cut in 1766 by Englishman John Spilsbury, believed to be the first person to cut puzzle maps for teaching geography, and encompasses both the first mass wave of puzzle popularity in the 1910s and the second and bigger jigsaw craze in 1932 and 1933. Other noteworthy puzzles come from such companies as Pastime, Par, and Stave. In addition to puzzles from mainstream manufacturers, the collection also features examples from home cutters and presents a broad view of American popular culture.
View the Anne D. Williams Collection of Jigsaw Puzzle Videos finding aid. See also "The First Jigsaw Puzzle."
Women in Toys Collection
In 2016, Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment (WIT)—a leading global professional women’s organization dedicated to providing its members with a collaborative, supportive environment and a networking foundation to help them create solid business alliances—launched The WIT Collection at The Strong. This archive of objects, papers, and other materials helps document, preserve, and make accessible the many ground-breaking contributions women inventors, designers, manufacturers, marketers, and newsmakers have made to the toy industry. The growing collection includes such items as sketches and drawings, notebooks, correspondence, research notes, prototypes, production samples, and digital assets from WIT Emeritus Members that will help advance general understanding and research on the toy development process in creating the best play experiences for children of all ages.