This post was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Cassandra Kane.
Museum visitors – get ready to feel nostalgic!
In the new ramp box display Toy Boxes, co-worker Kirsten Thomsen and I showcase favorite toys children have played with throughout history. From wooden alphabet blocks to Beanie Babies®, the exhibit features toys we gathered from Museum staff and friends or found in the Museum’s collections. The display works like a timeline, progressing by date from the bottom of the ramp to the top, and labels in each box show the year the toys were created.
To determine which toys to include, we consulted resources like the Strong Museum’s National Toy Hall of Fame and other toy history websites. Our project supervisors, Carly Baumann and Robin Meisner, provided wonderful insight and support as well.
We acquired some vintage toys, like a NERF® ball with its original box (courtesy of Director of Education Cathy Saunders) and a variety of colorful Silly Putty® eggs. For ones like Raggedy Ann™ and Mr. Potato Head®, we used “newer” toys to represent the originals.
We enjoyed unearthing interesting stories about how some of the toys were created. For instance, did you know Silly Putty® was a wartime invention gone wrong, and LEGO® derives from the Danish phrase “leg godt,” meaning “play well”?
My favorite part of the project was rooting through the collection of toys the Museum has amassed over the years. Slipping on white gloves to look closely at tin toys with labels reading “Made in Western Germany” and to hold a 200-year-old chalkboard evoked feelings of wonder and appreciation for the role toys have played and continue to play in childhood.
Although we ended up not including those toys among the 17 in our exhibit, the experience reaffirmed our goal in creating the display – that everyone has a special toy in their lives. We hope that as caregivers walk up and down the ramp, they pause to reminisce about the playthings in their own toy boxes growing up and then strike up a conversation with their children about what toys mean to them. We look forward to overhearing those exchanges over the next three months.
An interactive talk-back board allows visitors to share their favorite playthings so during your next visit, be sure to post a memorable toy from your childhood or a toy that your child adores!