What was a popular kids toy 100 years ago?

What was a popular kids toy 100 years ago?

A hundred years ago, the world of children's toys was vastly different from today. The early 1920s, a period often referred to as the Roaring Twenties, was a time of significant cultural and economic change. The aftermath of World War I, technological advancements, and a growing middle class all contributed to a new era of consumerism. In this dynamic context, toys played a vital role in the lives of children, reflecting the era's social values, technological progress, and cultural trends.

This essay explores the popular kids' toys from around 1924, highlighting how they were influenced by the era's unique characteristics. We will delve into specific examples of popular toys, their historical context, and their impact on children's play and development.

Historical Context of the 1920s

Economic and Social Changes

The 1920s were marked by economic prosperity, especially in the United States. The rise of mass production techniques, pioneered by Henry Ford's assembly line, made consumer goods, including toys, more affordable and widely available. This period also saw the emergence of a consumer culture, with advertising playing a significant role in shaping public tastes and preferences.

Technological Advancements

Technological advancements were a hallmark of the 1920s. The widespread adoption of electricity, the proliferation of automobiles, and the advent of radio broadcasting transformed daily life. These technological changes also influenced toy design and production, leading to new kinds of toys that incorporated these innovations.

Cultural Influences

The 1920s were a time of cultural transformation. Jazz music, Hollywood films, and new forms of entertainment shaped the cultural landscape. This cultural shift also affected the types of toys that became popular, as children often wanted toys that reflected the latest trends and technologies.

Popular Toys of the 1920s

Teddy Bears

One of the most iconic and enduring toys of the early 20th century is the teddy bear. Named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the teddy bear became a popular toy in the early 1900s and maintained its popularity through the 1920s. The story behind its creation is rooted in a hunting trip in 1902, where Roosevelt famously refused to shoot a bear cub. This incident was widely publicized, leading to the creation of the "Teddy's bear" by Morris Michtom, a Brooklyn shopkeeper.

By the 1920s, teddy bears were a staple in children's nurseries. They were made from soft materials like mohair, stuffed with cotton or kapok, and often had movable joints. Teddy bears provided comfort and companionship to children, making them a beloved toy across generations.


Tinkertoys, invented by Charles H. Pajeau and Robert Pettit in 1914, were another popular toy in the 1920s. These construction toys consisted of wooden rods and spools that could be assembled into various structures. Inspired by the sight of children playing with sticks and empty spools of thread, Pajeau and Pettit designed Tinkertoys to stimulate creativity and engineering skills.

By the 1920s, Tinkertoys had become a favorite among children and parents alike. They encouraged imaginative play and helped develop fine motor skills and spatial reasoning. The simplicity and versatility of Tinkertoys made them a timeless toy that continued to be popular for many decades.

Erector Sets

Similar to Tinkertoys, Erector Sets were construction toys that allowed children to build complex structures. Invented by A.C. Gilbert in 1913, Erector Sets consisted of metal beams, nuts, bolts, and various mechanical parts. Gilbert, a former magician turned toy inventor, was inspired by the steel construction techniques he observed while traveling on a train.

Erector Sets were marketed as educational toys that taught principles of engineering and mechanics. By the 1920s, they had become a popular toy for older children, particularly boys. The sets allowed children to build working models of bridges, cranes, and even motorized vehicles, fostering an early interest in engineering and science.

Raggedy Ann and Andy Dolls

Created by Johnny Gruelle, Raggedy Ann, and Andy dolls were immensely popular in the 1920s. Raggedy Ann was first introduced in a series of children's books written and illustrated by Gruelle. The character quickly became a beloved figure, and the demand for a corresponding doll grew.

Raggedy Ann dolls were characterized by their red yarn hair, button eyes, and stitched smiles. The success of Raggedy Ann led to the introduction of her brother, Raggedy Andy, in 1920. These dolls were more than just toys; they were cultural icons that represented simplicity, kindness, and nostalgia. Their popularity was bolstered by the charming stories in which they featured, making them cherished companions for children.

Toy Trains

Toy trains were a significant part of children's play in the 1920s. The Lionel Corporation, founded by Joshua Lionel Cowen, was a leading manufacturer of electric toy trains. Lionel trains were highly detailed and realistic, featuring electric locomotives, tracks, and various accessories.

The appeal of toy trains lay in their ability to mimic real-life railroads, a dominant mode of transportation at the time. They offered children an interactive and engaging way to learn about trains and the workings of a railway system. Toy trains also became a popular hobby for adults, further cementing their status as a classic toy of the 1920s.

The Schoenhut Toy Piano

The Schoenhut Toy Piano, created by Albert Schoenhut in 1872, gained significant popularity by the 1920s. Schoenhut, a German immigrant, initially designed the piano to be durable and child-friendly. These toy pianos were made from high-quality wood and featured small hammers that struck metal bars, producing musical notes.

The Schoenhut Toy Piano was more than just a plaything; it was an introduction to music for many children. It allowed them to explore melodies and rhythms, fostering a love for music from an early age. The toy pianos were often used in educational settings, further enhancing their appeal.

The Crystal Radio

The Crystal Radio was a popular toy in the 1920s, especially among older children and teenagers. Crystal radios were simple, non-powered radio receivers that used a piece of crystal and a wire to detect radio signals. They were relatively inexpensive to build, making them accessible to many children.

Building and operating a crystal radio provided a hands-on learning experience in basic electronics and radio technology. Children could tune in to various radio stations and listen to news, music, and entertainment broadcasts. This toy not only entertained but also educated children about the burgeoning field of radio communications.

Impact of 1920s Toys on Child Development

Encouraging Creativity and Imagination

Many toys from the 1920s, such as Tinkertoys and Erector Sets, encouraged creativity and imaginative play. These construction toys allowed children to design and build their own structures, fostering problem-solving skills and spatial awareness. Dolls like Raggedy Ann and Andy also stimulated imaginative play, as children created stories and adventures for their beloved characters.

Promoting Educational Development

Educational toys were a significant part of the 1920s toy landscape. Erector Sets and Tinkertoys taught principles of engineering and mechanics, while the Schoenhut Toy Piano introduced children to music. Crystal radios provided a practical lesson in electronics and radio technology. These toys helped children develop a range of skills, from fine motor abilities to scientific knowledge.

Fostering Emotional Growth

Toys like teddy bears and Raggedy Ann dolls provided comfort and companionship to children. They played a crucial role in emotional development, offering a sense of security and a medium for expressing feelings. These toys helped children navigate their emotions and build social skills through imaginative play.


The toys of the 1920s were a reflection of the era's technological advancements, cultural shifts, and economic prosperity. From the comforting embrace of a teddy bear to the educational potential of an Erector Set, these toys played a vital role in the lives of children. They encouraged creativity, fostered educational development, and supported emotional growth.

As we look back a hundred years, we see that many of these toys have left a lasting legacy. They continue to influence the design and purpose of modern toys, reminding us of the timeless nature of play and its importance in childhood development. The enduring popularity of these toys speaks to their ability to capture the imaginations of children and provide joy, learning, and comfort across generations.

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