Missouri History Museum exhibit offers glimpse into yesteryear's toy chest | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri History Museum exhibit offers glimpse into yesteryear's toy chest

Oct 27, 2016

An exhibit opening Saturday at the Missouri History Museum offers a peek into the toy chests of baby boomers:

* There are Slinkies and Mr. Potato Heads.

* Roy Rogers figurines and first-edition Barbie dolls.

* Lionel train sets and Betsy McCall paper dolls.

Some toys, like the Slinky, are still sold. But today's Slinkies are made of plastic.
Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

These are the toys that entertained children before the Information Age — when games were played on colorful boards with dice, not touch screens. And Trolls were glass-eyed with wild hair and didn’t lurk on social media.

The exhibit’s official title is “Toys of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s,’’ and it’s loaded with nostalgia. It was put together by the Minnesota History Center.

“They said they should have named this exhibit, ‘I had one of those.’ Or, ‘I remember that.’ Because that’s the constant line when people walk through,’’ said Sharon Smith, a curator at the Missouri History Museum. “You don’t even have to prompt it. It just happens. We are truly remembering our childhood.’’

The toys reflect America’s changing pop culture after World War II.

“It was the postwar boom. People had money,’’ Smith said. “Everybody was in a much better mood than they were in the ‘40s. And TV comes along.’’

Television provided a means for selling toys to mass audiences and also inspired new playthings, like Gumby dolls and a talking Casper the Friendly Ghost.

“TV programs and game shows became board games. TV characters became stuffed toys, and come alive in stores,’’ Smith said. “You have this character everyone falls in love with. They want one. They want to be able to hold it and play with it.’’

Technology was evolving — and society’s frontiers were changing.

During the '50s, westerns dominated popular culture and kids toys.
Credit Missouri History Museum

”In the ‘50s it was Hop-Along Cassidy, cowboy and Indian stories and John Wayne in the movies,'' Smith said. "And that’s the frontier then — the West. Then you go into the ‘60s, and the frontier becomes the Space Race, and we were going to the moon. And so there are rocket ships. By the ‘70s, we’re in a galaxy far, far away. And 'Star Wars' has happened.''

The toys are displayed in living room settings that capture the décor of the decades.

She thinks boomers will enjoy sharing their personal experiences with their children and grandchildren. While many of the toys are in cases, there are also play zones where visitors can try out hula hoops, throw Nerf balls and race Slinkies down a wooden staircase.

“I think there’s an opportunity for storytelling, reminiscing and maybe a few tears,” Smith said.

"Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s"

What: The exhibit is free and runs through Jan. 22, 2017. 

Where: Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Boulevard, Forest Park.

More information: For a list of special events, visit the exhibit website.