Anyone who takes a couple of moments to search through the web for baby toys will be inundated with all manners of rattles, teethers, mobiles, activity centers, stuffed animals, and sensory toys. Nowadays, we're left with the feeling that we're letting our babies down if we don't surround them with items designed to stimulate their brain development. But in the past, toys were much simpler and kids grew up just as intelligent.
The thought that babies need that most educational toys is, of course, far from the truth. Yes, your baby needs plenty of stimulation, but you can provide without going to the expense of buying the toys that are cutting edge today, then considered quaint and old hat in thirty years time.
All you have to do is scroll through this post to see some of the “must-have” baby items from the last one hundred years or so, and you’ll see just what I mean. The playthings shown were the latest and greatest advances in infant play and stimulation when they were created, but are now at best, sweetly old-fashioned, and at worst, positively scary.
Those rattling toys and crib mobiles you were looking at online, are just the latest generation in the family of baby toys, it is just that they have, thankfully, evolved quite a bit.
20 Just For Those With Fancy Pants
Children having toys is a relatively new concept in our culture. Throughout history, those how had the time and money to indulge in something as frivolous as an item specially made for a child's amusement were few and far between. The majority of people were to bust just trying to get by to even consider a baby toy, let alone afford one.
This began to change in the Victorian era when people who would have previously led a life of poverty found ways to make money and began to aspire to something more. As part of this, toys became a symbol that you had money to spare and the type of silver rattle above became very popular.
19 No Rush, Just Rushton
These somewhat scary items are a reindeer and a donkey and were part of a range of soft-bodied toys with hand-painted rubber faces, made by The Rushton Company, in the 1950's and 1960's. They were incredibly popular at the time and are a great example of how the look of items can change according to manufacturing technologies available at the time, as well as cultural styles.
The company was started in 1917, by a mom, Mary Rushton from Atlanta. Mary and her daughter, Wight designed most of the stuffies themselves.
18 Ever-Popular Farm Friends
This Fisher Price crib mobile from the early 1970's dangled from an angled arm which extended from a musical box. The box affixed to the side of the crib and the wind-up action played music while rotating the mobile.
Not very fancy to today's eyes but in 1973 this was the cutting edge of infant toy design and development. One thing that was popular then and has remained so is the subject matter. Fisher Price still makes plenty of farm-themed toys, as do the majority of other toy manufacturers.
17 You Spin Me Right Round
Once your baby can sit up unaided, somewhere between the ages of four and seven months, they might like to watch toys that have a bit of action going on. This is when moms in the 1950's would be buying a spinning top like this one from the Ohio Art Co.
You might not have heard of them before, but this is the company that bought us Etch-a-Sketch. They continue to produce toys today, using teams of parents, childhood development professionals, and psychologists to design and develop new product and they are responsible for the K-Kids educational products, nano blocks, and CLICS.
16 Red And Rubber
This red rubber car was produced by the Sun Rubber Company of Barberton, Ohio. Begining in 1924 the company created a popular small rubber doll and a toy hot water bottle, with the move into toy rubber cars taking place in 1934.
The toys were molded in rubber in one single color and then finished with a durable paint finish. The cars were not meant to reflect a particular vehicle but were designed just to be a recognizable vehicle and let's face it; no baby is going to reject a toy because it was the wrong model.
15 A French Ivory Teether
This is a typical example of the kinds of rattle that were being produced in the 1920's and 1930's. Until this point, most rattles and teethers had been made out of silver, ivory or bone, none of which were especially affordable.
During this period Celluloid became popular because it was a relatively cheap plastic that could be easily molded. The most popular use was in the production of photography and movie film, but it was also used to replace expensive ivory, often called "Ivorine" or "French Ivory."
Celluloid quickly fell out of favor for toys when it was discovered just how flammable it was.
14 An Early Twitter For Babies?
The Pull-A-Tune Blue Bird Music Box was designed to be attached to the upper railing of the side of the crib using the red vinyl strap while the pull handle dangled so the baby could grab it and pull to play music.
On the back of the toy, the words of the song it plays are printed:
Children's Prayer: When at night, I go to sleep, Fourteen angels watch do keep. Two, to whom 'tis given, To guide my steps to heaven.
This is just in case you have an early reader who wants to be able to sing along, naturally.
13 The Key To Fun
Another item that will be familiar to most of us, albeit in a slightly different format than seen here, is a ring of chewy animals on which your baby could chomp down.
Today, none of us would be handing over a set of hard plastic shapes that were held together by a bead chain like this set, but it is likely that at some point you will have at least seen a set of chew-able animals, complete with the raised nubbins to help soothe those sore gums.
What will happen when we all have smart homes without keys? What will teething babies of the future do then?
12 Wishing Humpty Fell Off The Wall
This Humpty Dumpty doll is an example of a homemade toy form the 1940's. The pattern for the doll was patented and then sold across the country at a time when handmade clothes, toys, and home furnishings were commonplace.
The choice of fabric was, of course, down to the creator but stripey pants and a fancy neck ruffle were seen as the standard wear for large egg men during World War II. The face was embroidered, so it's difficult to know why they are all quite so scary looking, but then again, how do you make a semi-human egg look friendly?
11 Twist Flip Switch And Turn
With beautiful multicolored fabrics, vibrant character printing, crinkly noises and flexible mirrors, today's "activity" toys are usually accompanied by information about their stimulating and educational properties.
They certainly make this early example of a crib activity center look somewhat lackluster, however, this 1970's Kohner "Busy Box Baby Crib Toy" was the must-have item for parents who wanted to raise a little Einstein.
Your child could enjoy red, blue, and yellow plastic, along with a car that could slide back and forth, a door that opened and shut, and a telephone dial that both turned and clicked. Fancy eh?
10 Lucky Duckie
Unlike the other toys on this list, you could probably find something very similar to this mobile, in a store or online today. The simple design, bright colors and basic, natural materials are something that went out of style in the middle of the last century and have fallen back into favor as we turn back to materials found in nature.
The only element you may no longer see is the beads that dangle from the central string. Anything like that is seen as a potential safety hazard today.
9 Blue For A Girl?
This rattle, produced in the 1940's was created at a time of change. Until this point, pink was seen as a boys color, and blue was for girls.
A Ladies' Home Journal article in June 1918 said, "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."
It wasn't until the 1940's that this changed, simply because manufacturers decided to change it up. So next time someone you know freaks at your son in a pink tutu and your daughter in denim dungarees, let them know, you are just retro gender stereotyping and see what they have to say about that.
8 Do We Still Have These?
Lots of the toys we have looked at can still be found in one form or another today, but I am less sure about this one. I don't know if it a geographical thing because our first three children were born in England and I do not recall ever seeing toys even vaguely similar to this.
However, all of our other kids have been born on this side of the pond and there pull along xylophone banging animals are still not readily found on the shelves, so perhaps designers got wise and realized that moms didn't want their kids pushing something back and forth across the room while it made a dull repetitive, tiny thudding noise.
7 More Than Just A Ring
I don't know a single person who grew up in a western country in the seventies or later, who doesn't immediately think of the plastic multi-colored Fisher Price rings when they hear the words "stacking ring toy." It is still around because it is such a simple, yet popular item that teaches not only colors but the concept of ascending sizes.
However, I do still love this 1950's wooden policeman, with his smiley face and his upright stance he is just right for stacking, chewing, and guarding over the rest of the toy box during nap time.
6 Shaping Up
Speaking of Fisher-Price, who appeared to dominate the baby toy market in the 1970's, they also developed a very popular shape sorter, complete with one of the synonymous Fisher Price people poking their heads out of the top.
Shape Sorters may come and go, but the basic concept cannot be changed - match a piece to the same shaped hole, so much so that there are plenty of shape sorting apps around today that do not require a physical toy at all.
The design above is quite collectible, although I am a bit puzzled by one listing that proudly declared "Shapes and hole still work."
5 Pound It Baby
The other titan of the preschool toy arena, Playskool, created this mainstay of the playroom in the 1960's. The hilariously named "pounding bench," - a dare you not to come up with an entirely inappropriate mental image for that one - was the first of the type of toys that allowed babies to bash the snot out of things.
Complete with a wooden hammer, babies emerging from their infant period and moving tentatively into toddlerhood could lay or sit and hit the pegs repeatedly until they would go no further.
Then, said child would often howl in frustration because they couldn't knock it through or end up screaming when they hit themselves in the head. Good times.
4 Bricking Beautiful
These bricks from the Victorian era are a beautiful example of how much care was taken in the production of absolutely everything, including something as simple as a child's block. Carved from wood, these blocks were then litho printed with a variety of animals and probably lived in the toy box of a wealthy, socially elite family.
On the downside for the child who owned these bricks, they may have had plenty of toys, but it was likely that they were raised by the nanny and bought to see their parents for a half hour each evening.
3 The Perfect Shower Gift Circa 1950
Pregnancy and the impending arrival of a new baby have been celebrated in many cultures since ancient times. In some cultures, such as ancient India, the mother would be "showered" with gifts of dried fruits and other nutritious foods so she and the baby could benefit from the nutrients.
These days a mom-to-be will often have a gift list or registry that is designed to equip her with everything she might need for the new arrival. Back in the 1950's, a mom might be more excited by a gift like this, a set of silver cutlery being held by a rattle for the baby.
2 Modern Moms' Nightmare
Everyone knows that when you have your first baby, you are hyper-vigilant, overly concerned about absolutely everything and that you see dangers everywhere. This is entirely normal and, if you have further children, you become less stressed and more relaxed as time goes on.
However, some things still stoke your Spidey senses, and for me, this is one of those toys. A 1940's doll made of wooden beads and Celluloid and designed to hang on the side of the crib all I can see is the potential for the string to break, beads to go everywhere and babies to choke.
Designed by ex-rocker scientist David Saint, the Graco Swingomatic was created when the inventor went home one night and saw his wife sitting in the garden swinging their baby by hand while trying to read her Readers Digest.
It was the first foray into baby products for what was then Graco Metal Products. Up until this point they had made auto parts but were looking to develop a brand new product to sell directly to consumers. The first battery-powered baby swing was born and the rest, as they say, is history.
References: pgpedia.com, mellow60s.com, jezebel.com, dailylocal.com,