THE NEFF ZONE -- BY JIM NEFF
CADILLAC NEWS -- DECEMBER 12, 2020
These days Americans don't seem to agree about much. However, even as tempers flare and fingers jab, there is one thing about which we all seem to agree upon. On Christmas every child should receive a toy.
I thought about this while reading an article about this being a record season for toy sales. “With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools in many parts of the United States to hold classes online, parents have turned to playsets and games to keep children’s boredom at bay, boosting toy sales at retailers. Demand is expected to increase as families with excess of money to spend due to canceled vacations splurge on toys during the holiday season.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/mattel-results-idUSKBN27807P)
This revelation led me to wonder what toys are touted to be the hot sellers for this Christmas. I went to ToyBuzz.org where there are 1,000 gift ideas for kids, including toys that “...stood out from the pack and will likely make the top of many kids’ Christmas gift wishlists.” (https://toybuzz.org/top-toys-for-christmas/)
On the list were toys like the Star Wars The Child Animatronic Edition, Imaginext DC Super Friends Surround Sound Batcave, L.O.L. Surprise O.M.G. Lights Fashion Dolls, Ninja Bots, and every game console and tablet you can imagine. Needless to say, parents will want to stock up on batteries.
Just reading about all these high-powered playthings made my old noggin spin, but then something on the list was a real surprise – the Etch A Sketch. “Discover the classic shake-to-erase toy that inspires unplugged creativity and has delighted generations of children.” This toy has been around for sixty years! This year there's “...a limited Diamond Edition Etch a Sketch with a sleek black frame and diamond-inspired knobs.”
Well, one thing leads to another and I began to wonder what were the top toys in years gone by. I found a list of the most popular toys for the year in which you were born (from 1930 to 2019). Etch A Sketch was on the list for both 1960 and 1961. Regardless of your age, this list will bring back some memories. (https://www.jeffreysward.com/editorials/poptoys.htm and https://dustyoldthing.com/toy-the-year-you-were-born/)
If you were a kid in 1932 you probably wished for a Rockford Sock Monkey. The real deal was made by the Nelson Knitting Company in Rockford, Illinois, which featured a red heel to assure customers that they were buying the original. But this was during the Great Depression. “As needs must, mothers soon made use of this red heel as the mouth for an easy to make homemade toy that could be produced from a worn out sock.”
As you might surmise, in the 1940s during WWII materials were scarce for toy production. “Metals and plastics were being used in the war effort. It was a simpler time of pastel books, bright red fire engines, and a return to the homemade toys.” During this decade things like Tinkerytoys, Little Golden Books, and wooden pull toys topped the list.
In the1950s some toys were introduced that became rather iconic. One was the View Master, originally used as a personal training device by the U.S. government. It burst onto the toy scene in 1951 “...when images of Walt Disney characters were used in the slides.” Following that, in 1952, came Mr. Potato Head in which the facial features got plugged into a real potato. But the capper happened in 1959 with the debut of one of the most popular toys to this day – Barbie dolls.
Of course, as mentioned before, Etch A Sketch was popular in the 1960s. That decade, though, featured and odd mix of playthings: Legos, Slip 'n Slide, Easy Bake Oven, G.I. Joe, Twister, Little People, Lite-Brite and Hot Wheels.
Along came the 1970s and this is when some technology made an appearance: Pong (1974), See'n'say (1975), and the Atari 2600 (1979). The Atari was a revelation. “This was the game that changed how kids spend their time. While it was pricey and not every home had one, the video game console would become the way many kids and teens (and adults) spend their Saturday afternoons.”
The march toward tech toys continued into the 1980s and 1990s. Things like Super Mario Bros or Nintendo Entertainment System (1988) and the Game Boy (1989) captured much of the market. These “systems” were accompanied by non-electronic fads: Rubik's Cube (1980), Cabbage Patch Kids (1983), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures (1990) and Beanie Babies (1995).
As for more recent list toppers, I bet they would be no surprise to you. Electronics dominated wish lists: Nintendo DS (2004), iPod Touch (2007), Apple iPad (2010), Wii (2012), and the Boxer AI Robot (2018).
Walks like this down memory lane can be a fun family activity during the holidays. This can be particularly entertaining for the more senior members of the contingent. Try to explain to today's Lego generation how you'd spend hours building things using Lincoln Logs or an Erector set.
Remember, there is a special Holidays web page with lots of things to see and do at: https://www.neffzone.com/holidays/. One thing you may want the kidlings to try is Shylock Fox and Comics for Kids. This is not technically a holiday activity, but this comic strip for kids offers a different puzzle, game, or mystery to solve every day.