5 Toys From Your Childhood That You Might Not Remember

“Lady Lionel” train set

In the early 1950s, the Lionel Company had its best years of sales, but by the decade’s end, the company struggled to stay relevant. They produced trains equipped with missile launchers and other space and Cold War-themed accessories. They also created the “Lady Lionel” train set, which came in pastel colors to appeal to girls, but few people were interested in a pastel-colored train. Because so few were made, they have now become a valuable collectible.

Spell It | Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s Exhibit | Heinz History Center

Spell It game

The Cadaco-Ellis toy company produced the Spell-It game, an early educational game that had rotating wheels and windows to teach not only spelling but simple math as well. With Spell It, a player could challenge herself with spelling, addition, subtraction, or multiplication. The game was played by choosing a word or equation from one of the sections and then moving the cardboard wheel in the center bit by bit to answer it. After dialing the complete word or equation, the correct answer appeared in the window.

Digi-Comp 1 | Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s Exhibit | Heinz History Center

Digi-Comp 1

In 1963, most people knew nothing about computers. The Digi-Comp 1, a basic mechanical computing toy, the first of its kind, introduced children to computing principles such as binary programming. Made by E.S.R., Incorporated of New Jersey, the toy came in kit form and had to be assembled. The Digi-Comp 1 was invented by the company’s founders, who were involved in missile research and engineering. Its sales exceeded 100,000 within the first few years on the market but eventually suffered after the introduction of electronic toys. With plastic parts and a box claiming that the Digi-Comp had the ability to compute “missile countdown and reentry,” it truly represented its time.

Generations of computer programmers remember the Digi-Comp and how it made the large electronic computers of the day more comprehensible. The toy has a cult following with many websites and fan clubs devoted to it. In 2005, one of its fans introduced an enhanced version.

Nauga Doll | Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s Exhibit | Heinz History Center

Nauga doll

The makers of a synthetic leather called Naugahyde teamed with ad man George Lois to produce an ingenious furniture advertising campaign in the 1960s. They claimed their product was more humane as it was made from the skin of the “Nauga,” a creature native to Sumatra, which shed its skin and did not have to be killed for its hide like other animals. You could even buy your own Nauga doll alongside your furniture purchase.

The UniRoyal company first produced Naugahyde in 1936. They continue to do so today, along with their loveable Nauga dolls.

Johnny Horizon Environmental Test Kit | Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s Exhibit | Heinz History Center

Johnny Horizon Environmental Test Kit

Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” first published in 1962, began to encourage an increased awareness of the environment. This awareness was reflected in toys like Parker Brothers’ Johnny Horizon Environmental Test Kit, which was introduced in 1971. One year prior, Earth Day was first celebrated.

The kit allowed children to take part in caring for the earth and included an assortment of glassware, measuring devices, vials of chemicals, and other scientific equipment used to test the air and water. Part toy and part training tool, science kits were a direct reflection of a time when learning about the environment and encouraging scientific exploration were introduced to the generation who might have the opportunity to change the world for the better one day.

These toys and others from your childhood can be seen in the Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s exhibit, which closes May 31, 2016.

Emily Ruby is a curator at the Heinz History Center.

Date May 17, 2016
  • Emily Ruby