Why These Classic American Toys Are Great for Our Kids
Forget screen time — six time-tested winners boost imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills
Kids today may not believe it — but there was a time when toys didn’t need to be charged up, plugged in, or otherwise “prepped” before they could be used.
Incredible. You just took the toy out of the box and … started playing with it!
Parents of all ages should remember to choose classic toys because they encourage imagination, creativity, and problem-solving for kids. They’re also loads of fun.
Remember just playing?
“Play is a tremendous way to connect with one another,” Tim Walsh, author of the book “Timeless Toys,” told LifeZette in an interview.
“Classic toys like Slinky and Wiffle Ball have multiple generations of fans, connecting people across decades. A five-year-old who played with Slinky when it came out in 1945 is today a 76-year-old great-grandparent — who can literally give her grandchild the toy and say, ‘I played with this when I was your age.’ How cool is that?”
Below are six great American-conceived classic toys that any child would be happy to see this spring or summer (or under the Christmas tree this year — though you may not be able to wait that long).
1.) Lincoln Logs. What child can resist spending an hour or two making little forts out of these little real-wood logs (and long green roof-slats)? John Lloyd Wright, the second son of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, invented these sometime around 1916 or 1917. The younger Lloyd Wright was working in Japan with his father, who was designing the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.
Fast forward — and Lincoln Logs were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999. They’re now made by K’NEX Industries of Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Pair the Lincoln Logs with a set of plastic army men and some plastic farm animals and fencing — and you won’t see the kids ’til dinnertime. (ages 5-12)
2.) Slinky. With its peppy and unforgettable TV jingle, the Slinky was an immediate hit with kids when it appeared on store shelves in the 1940s. Made of a pre-compressed helical spring, the Slinky can perform a number of tricks, including “walking” down a flight of steps or appearing to “levitate” after being dropped.
In 1943, Richard James, a naval mechanical engineer stationed in Philadelphia, was developing springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships in choppy seas. James accidentally knocked one of the springs from a shelf, and watched as the spring “stepped” a few times, and then re-coiled itself and stood upright, according to “Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them” by Tim Walsh.
James’s wife Betty later told the Las Vega Review-Journal, “He came home and said, ‘I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension; I could make it walk.'” The toy is manufactured by POOF Slinky in Plymouth, Michigan. (ages 5 and up)
SLINKY SUCCESS! pic.twitter.com/FLlQcYcgua
— Topps (@dtopping27) May 5, 2019
3.) Tinker Toy. These construction sets were created by Charles H. Pajeau, Robert Pettit, and Gordon Tinker in Evanston, Illinois, in 1914. Pajeau, a stonemason, designed the toy after seeing children play with sticks and empty spools of thread.
The sets were introduced to the public through displays in and around Chicago, which included model Ferris wheels. With high hopes, according to appalachianhistory.net, the duo displayed the toy at the 1914 American Toy Fair in New York City. But nobody was interested.
On the way back to his hotel, Pajeau convinced two drugstores in Grand Central Station in New York City to carry his toy, in exchange for a high commission. Over one million units were sold in the next year.
Tinker Toys were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998 and are sold by American multinational toy company Hasbro Toys. (ages 3 and up)
4.) Wiffle Ball. What beach day, picnic, or time in the park isn’t complete without a plastic bat and Wiffle Ball? In the summer of 1953, a grandfather was watching his 12-year-old son and a friend play a game in their backyard in Fairfield, Connecticut, using a perforated plastic golf ball and a broomstick handle, as the Wiffle Ball site explains.
After days of trying to throw curves and sliders with the golf ball, the son told his dad that his arm felt “like jelly.” The father picked up some ball-shaped plastic parts from a nearby factory, cut different designs into them, and sent his son out to test them. They both agreed the ball with eight oblong cut-outs worked best. The Wiffle Ball is made in Connecticut by the same family that invented it — the Mullanys of Shelton, Connecticut. (all ages)
Wiffle Ball is not only a legendary game, but among the most successful brands in history. https://t.co/n2hxJzIP5G
— Adweek (@Adweek) May 7, 2019
5.) Wooly Willy. This charms even the grumpiest kid with its clown-like face and round, red nose. A simple idea created by brothers Donald and James Herzog, the toy has metal filings that move around via a magnetic wand that adds features to Willy’s cartoon face.
The toy was originally manufactured in Smethport, Pennsylvania, and was priced at 29 cents when it came on the scene in 1955.
A buyer for the G. C. Murphy dime store chain purchased 72 units of the toy and expected not to sell them all for a year. The buyer called Herzog just two days later, according to the book “Wooly Willy Attracting Smiles for 50 Years” by Marti Attoun — ordering 12,000 for nationwide distribution.
More than 75 million Wooly Willies have been sold, and Wooly Willy remains in production today, sold by PlayMonster in Beloit, Wisconsin. (ages 4 and up)
6.) Lite Brite. This was introduced to the public in 1967 and caught on with kids anxious to poke small, translucent pegs into a backlit grid covered by black paper. Little artists could form the patterns of their choosing — and a week later, moms and dads were guaranteed to be on their hands and knees, hunting for all the little pegs that had been lost so their kids could continue playing.
Hasbro, based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, with operations all over the world, also offered pre-patterned designs for Scooby-Doo, Mr. Potato Head, and even Darth Vader. (ages 4 and up)
Deirdre Reilly is a writer and editor in the Boston area. This article appeared earlier in LifeZette and has been updated.