They might be light-hearted knick-knacks to some, but toys reflect trends and have had an impact on society.
The importance of toys is recognized in the exhibit “Old Friends: Play Things of the Past” at the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center.
Curator Heather Akers began the exhibit with a display of items from the 1800s, which is when toy stores got their start.
“Before, children had little free time, living on the farm,” Akers explained. “Then families moved into the cities, but it still was mostly wealthy children who shopped at toy stores.”
Dolls were always popular with girls. Toys from the 1800s also include building block sets and animal figurines.
The Teddy bear first appeared in the early 20th century, named for President Teddy Roosevelt. The exhibit includes a Topsy-Turvy doll, which is two dolls in one, depending on which end of the doll is up.
A large doll house from the 1930s features prominently in the exhibit. Akers said doll houses originally were made for adults, who enjoyed looking at them.
The Great Depression in the 1930s gave rise to smaller, less expensive toys. “Toy makers hoped they would be affordable to children and they would be willing and able to buy them,” Akers said.
Paper dolls, ring toss and jigsaw puzzles also became popular. “Anything cheap to occupy their time and keep them from dwelling on all the negative things happening in the world,” Akers said.
Television gave birth to shows such as “The Mickey Mouse Club,” which created the perfect opportunity to advertise toys.
By the 1970s and ’80s, toys turned high-tech and computer games were born. Cartoons and toys were closely related as toymakers and television program creators collaborated on projects like My Little Pony and Masters of the Universe.
Akers’ exhibit also has a Must-Have Toys section, which includes Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies and a Shirley Temple doll.
There is a Boys vs. Girls section, which demonstrates traditional likes and dislikes by gender. The boys’ portion includes trains and weapons while the girls’ portion includes dolls and domestic items.
Akers has taken some of the items from the exhibit on the road. She presented a talk about some of the toys at Active Day of Ashland Medical Adult Day Care on U.S. 60.
The exhibit will continue through July.
LEE WARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2661.