Favorite Christmas Toys over the Early 20th Century

You may well know which were your grandparents or parents favorite toys at Christmas. But here are some reminders of what was popular during the early 20th century.

An all-time favorite has been a Teddy Bear. It started in 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a tied-up, defenseless black bear during a hunting trip in Mississippi. After Brooklyn, NY; shopkeeper Morris Mictom saw a political cartoon about the incident, he and his wife made a stuffed fabric “Teddy’s bear” and put it in their shop window, sparking immediate customer interest. Around the same time, a family-owned toy company in Germany began making stuffed bears of its own. Bought in bulk by a U.S. manufacturer, the German bears officially became known as teddy bears in 1906. Other companies manufactured the teddy bears and toys became an international craze that went on for decades and still today.

The Yo-Yo in the 1920s was started by Pedro Flores began manufacturing the yo-yo in the United States. Flores soon sold his toy company to a competitor, Don Duncan, a marketing whiz whose promotional Yo-Yo trick contests would launch the toy’s popularity for years.

Every little girl in the 1930s wanted a Shirley Temple doll. In1934, the Ideal Toy and Novelty Company began manufacturing a doll based on America’s favorite child star, whose hit movie “Bright Eyes” was released just after the holiday. Priced at around $3 to $5, the dolls made some $45 million for Ideal Company over seven years of production.

At Christmas 1945, mechanical engineer Richard James had stumbled on the inspiration for the Slinky toy after accidentally knocking over some ship springs he was working on, which “walked” instead of falling. James came up with a machine that coiled 80 feet of wire into a 2-inch spiral, his wife gave it the name “Slinky” and a legend was born. Over the decades some 300 million Slinky toys have been sold.

In the 1950s, George Lerner originally created a bunch of silly face parts to be used with actual potatoes and other vegetables (beets anyone?) as part of a cereal box promotion. The Hassenfeld brothers, future founders of Hasbro Inc., purchased the toy idea in 1952, packaging 28 plastic facial and body parts with a Styrofoam head, which was later changed to plastic as well. By the end of its first year, Mr. Potato Head made history as the first toy with its own TV commercial.

In the 1960s, Hasbro Company launched the first generation of foot-tall G.I. Joe figures—available in Action Soldier, Pilot, Marine and Sailor—at the height of the Cold War and Vietnam War to massive success. The action doll G.I. Joe went into retirement in 1978.

Once you learn of any special Christmas gifts your relatives and ancestors got, include that information in your family history.

Photos: Vintage Teddy Bear in 1920s; Everyone loved the yo-yo in the 1920s; Shirley Temple doll of 1930s; Slinky in 1940s; Mr Potato Head of 1950s; and G. I. Joe of 1960s.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Scrapbook Toys

Finding Letters

Christmas Surnames

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