Emily Ruby, Curator, Heinz History Center:
Here we are in the 1950s living room. Now each living room in this exhibit is based on a toy from that decade, so the 1950s is based on a Marx Toy Company toy house and of course it’s a Western theme, which was very popular in the 1950s.
Many toys of the 1950s were marketed directly to girls or boys so they were training children how to be future mothers or fathers or adults so at that time for girls it was a lot of homemaking toys and for boys it was toys training them how to be future construction workers or how to take over dad’s job, like a chemistry set and things like that.
The ’50s and ’60s were the era of plastics. Traditional wooden or metal toys were increasingly being replaced by plastic toys as plastics became more durable. They were also a cheaper material to produce toys with so again an increase in the production of toys.
Dolls have always been a popular toy for girls. In the 1950s, we saw a little bit of a different take on dolls because of the Sara Lee doll, which was the first mass marketed African American doll and provided a more positive image for African American girls.
Because an increasing number of people had televisions in the home, many toys of the 1950s are based on popular television shows such as Howdy Doody, the Mickey Mouse Club, and the most important popular toy of the era – the Davy Crockett coonskin cap. We also saw television commercials, which were increasing the demand for toys.
The first toy to be advertised on television was the Mr. Potato Head in 1952. Here we have one of the original Mr. Potato Head kits, donated to the Smithsonian by its inventor, George Lerner. This kit consisted of pieces that stuck into an actual potato. Parents complained of rotting vegetables found around the house. In 1964, Mr. Potato Head finally got his plastic body and became the Mr. Potato Head we know today.