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Toy Tractor

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Toy Tractor

A toy tractor and forage wagon representing Minneapolis-Moline products, circa mid twentieth century.

For details, view this toy in our collections database.

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Barbie and Ken, 1962

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

When Mattel toy co-founder Ruth Handler suggested an adult-bodied female doll to company executives in the early 1950’s, they were less than enthusiastic.  After all, infant dolls had dominated the market for decades, and fit the bill in preparing young girls for their future role as mothers.  But when Handler noticed her daughter Barbara (Barbie’s namesake) giving adult roles to the paper dolls she played with, she knew there was a niche to be filled.  Handler was in Europe in 1956 when she spotted a blonde-haired, long-legged doll named Bild Lilli, named after a German cartoon strip character.  Lilli was a sassy, independent working girl and her womanly figure was just what Handler envisioned for her doll.  Mattel took cues from the Lilli doll and adapted their own design which debuted as Barbie in 1959.

Marketed as a “Teen-age fashion model,” Barbie was the first mass-produced toy in America with adult features and was an instant success with 350,000 dolls sold in the first year of production.  Mattel was a pioneer in television advertising, being the first toy maker to broadcast commercials directly to kids in 1955 as a sponsor for the Mickey Mouse Club program.  Soon after her debut, Barbie commercials began to saturate children’s primetime TV programming and sales skyrocketed.   By 1961, consumer demand had reached such a fever pitch that Mattel released a new doll.  Barbie’s boyfriend Ken (named after Handler’s son) debuted in March of that year, clad in red swim trunks and sporting “molded” plastic hair.  Barbie’s coterie continued to grow with the introduction of best friend Midge in 1963 and little sister Skipper in 1964.

More than 800 million Barbies have been sold worldwide, but being the most popular doll in history hasn’t always been easy.  With a seemingly endless stash of clothing, cars, and “Dream Houses” Barbie has been branded as a poster child for materialism, and some have claimed that her supermodel-on-steroids good looks has created unrealistic expectations for young girls.  Others defend Barbie as a positive influence who provided an alternative to the traditional gender roles of the 1950’s, a point echoed by her creator.   “My whole philosophy of Barbie” said Ruth Handler “was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”  Whatever her fate, there’s no denying that Barbie has played a significant role as both a mirror and model of American culture.

Adam Scher, Senior Curator

  • For more fun like this, watch for the new Toys exhibit, opening at MHS Memorial Day Weekend 2014!
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Snoopy Yo-Yo

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Snoopy Yo-Yo

On this day, October 2, in 1950 the “Peanuts” comic strip drawn by St. Paul’s Charles Schulz begins national syndication in seven newspapers. This white plastic yo-yo features Snoopy in a fur coat and waving a red banner that reads “Rah!”

For details, view this toy in our collections database.

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Farm tractor toy

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Farm tractor toy

One-sixteenth scale model of a Minneapolis-Moline 1957 Five Star Standard farm tractor.

For details, view this toy in our collections database.

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Turn-A-Face toy

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Turn-A-Face toy

Plastic Turn-A-Face toy manufactured circa 1950. The toy consists of five blocks that may be rotated along a central axis in order to form faces with mis-matched features.

For details, view this toy in our collections database.

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Pecking toy from Little Sweden Resort

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Pecking toy from Little Sweden Resort

Pecking bird toy purchased at the Little Sweden Resort in Cook, Minnesota between 1953 and 1955.

For details, in our collections database.

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Charlie the Tuna

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Charlie the Tuna

Charlie the Tuna stuffed character doll manufactured by Mattel, Incorporated in Hawthorne, California circa 1970. Charlie has been the cartoon mascot for StarKist tuna since 1961.

For details, view the doll in our online collections database.

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Slinky Junior

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Slinky Junior

Slinky Junior helical spring toy made by James Industries between 1965 and 1968 and used by Tracey Allyn Harpole, Kimberley Michelle Harpole, and Leslie Robin Harpole in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The Slinky Junior is a smaller version of the original Slinky toy.

For details, view the Slinky Junior in our online collections database.

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Flex-O-Gears

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Flex-O-Gears

Flex-O-Gears toy construction set consisting of a cardboard storage canister (A) and interlocking plastic pieces (B-FF: 15 cog wheels; 14 black connectors; and one plastic handle). Manufactured by Child Guidance Toys, Inc. in New York, New York between 1962 and 1963. Used by Tracey Allyn Harpole in St. Paul, Minnesota.

For details, view the set in our online collections database.

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Fisher-Price pull toy

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Fisher-Price pull toy

Pull toy (Tiny Teddy) consisting of a wooden bear sitting atop a xylophone set on wheels. The bear holds two coiled metal mallets which strike the xylophone’s keys when the set is pulled forward by means of a cord attached to its front. Manufactured by the Fisher-Price Toy Company in 1967 and used by Leslie Robin Harpole, Tracey Allyn Harpole, and Kimberly Michelle Harpole in St. Paul, Minnesota.

For details, view the pull toy in our online collections database.

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs