Many of the toys I grew up with are now coveted by collectors my age. Toys reflect the times they are played with. They are also limited by the technology present at the time of invention. To say that the 1960’s and 1970’s were simpler times with regards to the toys and their technical advancement compared to the present day might be true. The digital revolution did not happen yet in mass. (The TV compatible game “Pong” was a beginning.)
New technology in the toys of my youth were memorable in a number of examples. When Mattel released Hot Wheels in 1968 the little cars were faster than their predecessor – Matchbox cars. Hot Wheels had polished wire axles instead of the rigid cold rolled steal of Matchbox cars. It was in the engineering.
This display was at our local dime store. I would tell the clerk what number I wanted. She would then reach under the counter and hand me a little new box with that car in it – 55 cents each!
Another toy that was top of my list was Creepy Crawlers. I had the Fright Factory. It consisted of Plasti-Goop, a “Thing Maker” (heating element) and die cast steel molds to pour the Goop into then place on the Thing Maker. This toy was discontinued in this form and made safer for kids. The original Plasti-Goop was toxic and the heating process could easily burn the user.
Monsters and horror were a big thing. Having a birthday on Halloween fueled any gift ideas my mom and dad had for me.
(I could go on with listing great toys from my childhood but a list is just a list. It is fun to simply see the images and their boxes.)
We used to bounce these over the house to another kid waiting on the other side!
The memories of these toys had as much to do with getting them as with playing with them. Walking into a department store and heading back to the toy department was anticipatory magic. My mom, who seemed to always be shopping with us, would set my brother and me free once we stepped over the threshold of the main entrance. Treasure Island, Gimbles Schuster’s at Capital Court, The Court Variety store and Tosa Pharmacy, all on the northwest side of Milwaukee, were the best places to get these objects of desire. I remember the smell of plastic and newness upon entering the store. Surrounded by all these toys in one place excited me.
As I meticulously looked over every box and package, straining to see a hint of the actual contents, an unwelcome feeling slowly took hold and progressed. I sensed a full bladder. Noooo! There simply was not time to waste looking for the bathroom while I could be looking at the toys! I held it. It was painful. I kept shifting my weight from one leg to the other to ease the fullness, all the while, still looking at the items in front of me. This made it worse. For a while it worked but eventually, the agony outweighed the rewards. Only after I could feel a damp spot down there in my underwear did I venture out to find the boys room. After rushing back to those toys, my mom came to pick up my brother and I up to go home.
Birthdays and money spent from grass clipping jobs in summer or snow shoveling jobs in the winter, along with our weekly allowance were the occasions that comic books, candy, Hot Wheel cars, plastic models, HO road race accessories, games, Slinkys and anything else I saw on Saturday morning commercials could be purchased. In the background of all these methods, and plans to acquire the toys were bonus opportunities. Back then, little plastic figures or objects such as monsters, trolls, safari animals, tops, stickers, funny fantasy figures, small space ships, rub on tattoos, badges and buttons and cowboy & indian figures all found their way into cereal boxes and snack foods. Eventually, because of the potential choking hazard posed by these small “prizes” inside the boxes and bags, the practice was discontinued. In time, McDonalds made a marketing tradition by including little toys inside their Happy Meals. This was after my time as a toy enjoyer but not so for our kids. They loved them and of course, many from the early days of the Happy Meal are collectable.
Card collecting was done by every kid in my neighborhood – everything from Batman cards to baseball cards. Throughout my childhood, the occurrence of walking or biking down to the local drugstore and buying 3 packs of baseball cards on a July afternoon when the 4th series just came out is still a cherished memory for me. The smell of the bubble gum and new cardboard after opening the wax package was intoxicating. Packs were five cents apiece. By summer’s end most all of our nickels went to Topps for more pack(s).
Neighborhood stat wizard Gregg Janke organizing my brother’s and my baseball cards after we combined collections. In the summer of 1971 card collecting took over in earnest, as childhood toys were put aside.
Board games were always at the ready in the family room. (Hey is that a Batman model on the table?) This is my brother Kurt’s 8th birthday fun. (He’s the guy with the crown)
Admiring our set up of GI Joes with life long friend Joe and Kurt.
NHL mechanical hockey game. Steel, plastic and masonite. This game still works perfectly in 2023. (left to right – Kurt, Dean and Sandy -1971)
Pride in toy set up demanded a photo. The family Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera captured this Hot Wheels race in the living room. All of these images, except for the iphone image of me and the products of the toys in their packaging were taken with a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye film camera. Those photos have the date the image was taken in the border of the print. The camera took 12 6 x 6 shots on 620 film. The lens was 80 mm and focused from 5 feet to infinity. The shutter was around 1/30 th of a second and the aperture was about F13. That’s why we see so many blurry photos from that time if shot indoors without a flash bulb. Our camera was probably made in 1961. The other camera we had was a Polaroid Land camera model 104 from the 1960’s. The fun with those is, of course, was instant gratification and the fixer you had to rub on the photo after it developed- messy and stinky!
The fondness for the toys of my youth have never really vanished. I have many of them still, in the attic. Every generation might argue that the toys of it’s childhood were the best. It is a subjective fondness based on nostalgia. The days before the concerns of adulthood occupy all of our waking hours, are looked back on with sentimental longing. If you are lucky enough to have saved those joyous artifacts from your younger days, you will root them out of the attic or garage after many years and enjoy them once again. If you didn’t, eBay is full of period items, (some for a substantial cost.) I will say that I am happy I had toys that were mostly analog. Some required batteries but there were no screens that I can remember – except for Pong and that arrived in November of 1972.
By that time, I was 15 years old and had my sights on driving a real car.