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Classic Toys Classic Fun

It seems nowadays children are preoccupied with either television or video games. But it wasn't that long ago when children had to use their ingenuity and imaginations to be entertained when playing and having fun. Parents can bring back this ideology back into our homes by turning off those dreaded machines, getting back to the basics and bringing into our homes the classic toys that have entertained and educated children for decades. With the advent of the "video age", there is no doubt toy companies feel slighted on the bottom line.

But some toys stand the test of time and never go out of style, still entertaining and thrilling children for decades, with no let up in sight. Let's explore some of these classic toys and icons of the toy industry: Etch a Sketch Invented in the late 1950's by a gentleman named Arthur Granjean (he called it "L 'Ecran Magique"), meaning the magic screen; in his garage. The Ohio Art Company decided to take a chance on his "drawing toy" and renamed it the Etch A Sketch and in 1960 launched a successful television advertisement campaign to promote it. The response was so overwhelming, Ohio Art continued to produce them until noon Christmas Eve, 1960. The toys were then immediately shipped to the west coast so people there could have the Etch A Sketch in time for Christmas. The Etch A Sketch has entertained over 100 million adults and children in 67 countries worldwide.

The basic design pretty much stayed the same, although Ohio Art did offer hot pink and blue frames in the 1970's, but found that people preferred the traditional red frame. Additionally, the Etch A Sketch Club was formed in 1978 and has an average of 2,000 members worldwide. For fun, take a poll of your friends or coworkers, and ask them how many of them ever drew something with an Etch A Sketch.

Your numbers will be astonishing; it was and still is, one of the world's most popular toys! The Erector Set A. C. Gilbert was a brilliant man. At the time of his death in 1962, he was credited with 150 patents for the inventions that went into his products.

In fact, as a boy he was a talented magician and it was that talent that helped him pay his tuition to Yale Medical School. While going to school and performing as a magician, he formed Mysto Manufacturing, a company that sold magic kits to children. Gilbert ultimately finished Yale Medical School, but decided to enter the toy business rather than practice medicine.

He was a gifted inventor and chose to entertain and educate children. His most popular invention? The vintage construction toy-the erector set. In 1911, on one of his many train trips from New Haven (his home) to New York City, he watched out the window as workers positioned and riveted the steel beams of an electrical power line tower.

He decided to create a children's construction kit, with evenly spaced holes for bolts to pass through and he included nuts, pulleys, gears and eventually engines. Although a British company called Meccano was selling a similar toy, Gilbert thought his "erector set" would be more realistic. His set had more technical advantages, especially steel beams that were not flat, but were bent lengthwise to produce a ninety degree angle, thus, four of them joined together side-to-side, formed a sturdy, square support beam. Backed by the first major American advertising campaign for a toy, Gilbert started selling the "Mysto Erector Structural Steel Builder" in 1913, (later to be called, simply the "erector set") and the toy became one of the most popular construction toys of all time. It was not unusual for living rooms across the country to be crowded with small skyscrapers and buildings that young minds had carefully crafted.

It is estimated that the A. C. Gilbert Company has sold more than 30 million sets.

In 1943, a Naval engineer accidentally knocked some springs off of a shelf while he was working on a meter designed to monitor horsepower on battleships. He marveled at the way they "walked" instead of falling and the odd movement of these springs gave Richard James an idea and an instant toy was born. That toy: The Slinky Richard James then spent the next two years testing and refining the best steel gauge and coil to utilize for his new toy. His wife, Betty appropriately found the perfect name for this new toy- a Slinky; which is the Swedish word meaning traespiral or sleek.

The couple borrowed five hundred dollars and James designed a machine to coil eighty feet of wire into a two-inch spiral and manufacture their new toy. Sales were slow at first, but soared after the Slinky was demonstrated at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia for the Christmas season in 1945. The first 400 sold within the ninety-minute demonstration and a new fad had begun.

Around 1960, Richard James suffered what some called a mid-life crisis and left his wife, their six children and joined a Bolivian religious cult. He also deserted the Slinky toy he worked so hard to produce and left the company in debt and ruin. Betty James took over as CEO of James Industries and introduced other toys for the "Slinky line-up" including: Slinky pets, crazy eyes Slinky (glasses with Slinky-extended fake eyeballs), neon Slinky, and also replaced the original black-blue Swedish steel with American steel. Additionally she moved the company headquarters from Philadelphia to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania and began an aggressive advertising campaign, complete with the now famous Slinky jingle: "What walks down stairs, alone in pairs, And makes a Slinkity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing, Everyone knows it's Slinky? It's Slinky, it's Slinky, for fun it's a wonderful toy It's Slinky, it's Slinky, it's fun for a girl or a boy" However, the Slinky is not just an entertaining toy for children. It is used in schools in physics classes to demonstrate wave properties, forces, and energy states.

The Slinky still continues to sell (250 million have been sold to date) and are still manufactured in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania using the original equipment designed by Richard James. We have looked at the history of three classic toys that continue to entertain children all over the world. There is one clear concept that be derived: Classic toys equal classic fun.

Robert Benson has written articles on many subjects and operates two web sites. Learn about the hobby of vinyl record collecting or shop for your classic toys at his online shopping site:

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